- A recent petition against national civil rights attorney Lee Merritt makes serious accusations against his experience
- The petition from Rabner Law claims Merritt stated “he had never tried a civil rights suit”
- Rabner Law filed the petition on behalf of Antwon Rose in relation to the estate of Antwon Rose II who was killed by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfield
- A former Oklahoma client of Merritt claims he tried to farm out his case and wasted six months of his time
- Bilal Konte retained Merritt to file his case in February but says nothing was ever even filed after six months from paying him
- Accusations against Merritt from the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee in Texas appear to establish a history of similar allegations against Merritt
Over the last few years heavy protests and social media have helped to shine a light on the reality of police shootings in America and racially-based injustices within our legal system. Several names have become synonymous for demanding justice following these injustices. One of those names is Stacy Sylvester Lee Merritt Esquire who is believed to be a leading civil rights attorney for families suffering following an injustice or unjustified police shooting. After years of being in the spotlight, is Merritt really the justice-driven civil rights attorney he claims to be?
Who Is Lee Merritt
Born in Los Angeles, Merritt lived through the 1992 riots following the acquittal of Los Angeles Police Sergeant Stacey Koon and officers Laurence Michael Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno for the beating of Rodney King during a traffic stop in 1991. Over five days, 50 people died, more than 2,000 were injured, 9,800 California National Guard troops were dispatched, almost 12,000 people were arrested and there was over $1 billion in damages. It is easy to see how growing up in Los Angeles during that period likely influenced Merritt towards a career in civil rights.
Later Merritt attended Morehouse College, a private, historically black men’s college located in Atlanta, Georgia from 2001-2005. He went from being involved with the Morehouse student government to enrolling in law school at Temple University’s James Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia from 2009-2012. It was during his second year at Temple that he began a summer internship at the Philadelphia office for the Los Angeles law firm of Johnnie Cochran. Following the case of O.J. Simpson, Cochran became a household name in America. Before the Simpson case, Cochran was the first African-American to serve as the Assistant District Attorney for Los Angeles County from 1978-1980. A year prior Cochran was named Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association.
In 1981 Cochran returned to private practice and won a number of landmark decisions in police misconduct cases, including the highest jury award in the history of Los Angeles on behalf of a 13-year-old girl molested by an LAPD officer. Needless to say, Cochran could help launch Merritt’s career. After Merritt graduated from Temple he signed on with Cochran’s firm, but not even two years later started his own firm. According to Texas Monthly, Merritt has a residence in Philadelphia but moved back to Plano, Texas after he and his wife divorced. Merritt’s relocation was to ensure the children would see both parents. Despite the association with Cochran, Merritt’s name would not really be known until 2016.
On July 7, 2016, following a protest against police shootings in Dallas, Texas five police officers were fatally shot and nine others along with two civilians were injured. The man responsible for the fatal shooting was later identified as 25-year-old Micah Johnson, an Army reservist who was upset by the frequent shootings of black men by police. Johnson was killed after officers used a bomb-carrying robot to kill him. Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the decision to use the robot was made after negotiations had failed with Johnson — who they believed was also injured by gunfire —and they wanted to end the continued threat. Over a year later, a Dallas Grand Jury would decline to bring charges against any of the officers involved in Johnson’s death.
Despite Johnson being the shooter, in the immediate hours following the shooting Mark Hughes was first named as the man responsible for killing five police officers. Through their Twitter account, the Dallas Police Department tweeted an image of Hughes with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder that read “This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him!” Hughes was on his way to his car when he found out he had been named as the shooter. He turned himself into nearby police who arrested him and took him to Jack Evans Police Headquarters in the Cedars. After questioning Hughes and some forensic testing, Hughes was dropped back off in downtown Dallas, but police dropped him off without his shirt, car keys, or gun.
Lee Merritt Goes National
Hughes attended the protest that night with his AR-15 as a display of his right to do so. He turned his rifle into police after the shooting began but before he was named as a suspect and detained. Merritt was Hughes lawyer which pushed his name to a national level. Over two years after the shooting Merritt announced a lawsuit on behalf of Hughes for violating his civil rights. The suit claims the DPD held on to his property illegally and caused him and his brother Cory Hughes emotional distress. After DPD named him as the suspect, Hughes was the most wanted man in America and the DPD refused to take the image off their Twitter at first. Merritt claims the brothers were “targeted, harassed and violated by DPD.”
Mark Hughes was lawfully carrying a firearm as a symbolic gesture asserting equal protection under the law for black men exercising their Second Amendment rights when he and his brother were targeted, harassed and violated by DPD.Lee Merritt Via The Dallas Observer
Lee Merritt Accused Of Practicing Law Without A License
Over the years since the Dallas shooting, Merritt quickly became nationally-known as a civil rights attorney. However, it would not be long before Merritt began to have some of his own legal issues. On January 30, 2018, the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee accused Merritt of practicing law without a license. According to the original petition, Merritt applied to take the Texas Bar Examination in July 2015 but never took it. The UPLC also notes that Merritt’s license to practice was suspended in Pennsylvania in November of 2016, but had since been reinstated. The petition named several cases where Merritt sent letters of representation, accepted legal fees from clients, advised opposing counsel, filed court documents, appeared in court and purposely neglected to publicly inform potential clients he was not licensed to practice law in Texas.
Merritt resolved the accusations by signing an agreement not to practice law in any state cases in Texas. Later in the year the UPLC would claim Merritt broke their agreement. Merritt faced 16 charges of practicing law without a license. The UPLC was seeking “six months imprisonment” and a $500 fine for each alleged instance. Merritt claimed in each case the motion for contempt cited he acted as an advocate for the family while preparing a federal civil rights claim. He also claimed to always work with a licensed Texas attorney who handles the criminal side of any case. Merritt was eventually cleared of all the charges and claimed the “prosecution was designed to stop the civil rights work that I was doing.”
Antwon Rose II
On June 19, 2018, 17-year-old Antwon Rose II was fatally shot by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld. Antwon was in a car that matched the description of a car connected to a drive-by shooting. After police conducted a traffic stop, Antwon and 17-year-old Zaijuan Hester ran from the vehicle. Police would later say two semiautomatic weapons were found on the floor of the car. Hester was taken into custody for a probation violation and his role in the drive-by shooting. Antwon was shot and killed within seconds of running from the car. District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. would later say “Antwon Rose didn’t do anything except be in that vehicle.” Rosfeld was a rookie officer that had just been sworn in only hours before the shooting. After giving conflicting testimony, Rosfeld was charged for the shooting, but acquitted in March of this year. Cell phone video from a neighbor caught the moment Rosfeld opened fire.
Lee Merritt And Rabner Law
Following the shooting, Merritt was quick to jump on the case in front of the media. However, a petition entered by Rabner Law on behalf of Antwon Rose Sr claims serious issues once Merritt attempted to join the case. Rabner Law was hired to lead the pursuit of any claims but Merritt was brought on as additional counsel. According to the court filing, Merritt “immediately began to demand unreasonable and improper procedure.” Merritt insisted a lawsuit be filed against Rosfeld without opening an estate. “Merritt further asserted, erroneously, that no estate was necessary to file a claim.” Perhaps the most shocking claim in the filing is that Merritt “demanded that Rabner Law allow him to proceed as lead counsel because he had never tried a civil rights suit and wanted to ‘build his resume.'” If this claim is true, that would mean Merritt has made a name for himself as a leading civil rights attorney without ever taking the lead on a civil rights case.
The petition claims Merritt was never formally retained by the Rose estate but was still “eager to appear on national television to discuss” and present himself as the family’s attorney. Merritt allegedly did nothing for the Rose estate and attempted to bring attorney Daryl Washington Esquire to assist in representing the estate. The filing also alleges Merritt insisted Rose sign documentation that retained himself and Washington and placed him as lead counsel. Due to Merritt’s attempts at undermining Rabner Law and not acting in the best interest of the estate, he was asked to cease any further communication with the estate. On July 16, 2018, all relationship between Merritt and Rose were formally terminated. The petition also references back to the charges against Merritt. In a related article, Merritt stated he had not paid his legal bills to the attorney that got his charges cleared Texas. Merritt was quoted that Prater Monning was still waiting for “me to win a big suit.” His comments caused concern that Merritt was more concerned with his reputation and personal finances than he was for the estate.
Rabner Law claims Merritt has misrepresented his experience and is unable to handle the case of his own. Up to this point, Rabner Law claims to be solely responsible for all the legal aspects of the case. According to the filing, Antwon’s mother Michelle Kenney hired Merritt in late 2018 to assist in public statements related to the criminal proceedings. The document states on March 29, 2019, Merritt, along with John Coyle and Daniel Purtell, inappropriately served a petition to remove Rose as co-administrator of the estate. Discuss was not able to receive a statement from Rabner Law at the time of this article’s release.
Former Client Of Lee Merritt Bilal Konte
Another former client of Merritt is coming forward after feeling like the civil rights attorney deceived him and never had intentions of taking his case. In 2017, Bilal Konte was arrested over an alleged sexual battery and kidnapping. Konte, who served as a marine, was a successful personal trainer at the time. After signing a multi-million dollar contract with INTEGRIS Health he and his former girlfriend, Tiffanee Ellison, went out and had dinner and drinks to celebrate. The couple ended up back at Konte’s apartment where he did not want to drive her home due to his intoxication and a verbal argument ensued. According to Konte, the next thing he knew he was woken up to Edmond, Oklahoma police in his apartment. According to local news, Ellison’s mother is who called police after receiving a text from her daughter.
Konte was shocked to hear he was being accused of choking, abusing and holding Ellison at gunpoint. While he was detained, Konte claims his apartment was trashed. After his arrest, his teenage son was left in the apartment alone while Konte was taken to Oklahoma County Jail where he would spend the next 37 days. Konte claims when he first arrived he was placed on a suicide watch for days despite saying he was not suicidal. He was eventually given a $79,000 bond he was able to post several days later. Before exiting the jail, a detective asked him if he could talk to him about a different former girlfriend named Tiffany Dawson. Instead of being allowed to leave jail, Konte was booked back into jail related to charges from allegations from Dawson. His bond was first set at $3,000,000 then reduced to $270,000. Konte was once again able to bond out. Both cases were dismissed without even having a preliminary hearing. The same day his cases were dismissed, Konte was having lunch with his attorney when they learned the prosecutor was going to refile charges related to Dawson. After having to go through the bond and warrant process again, the second case was once again dismissed.
After the second dismissal, Konte was finally allowed to receive his guns back that were taken from him the day of his arrest, but that was a small victory after what he had been through. Konte says his multi-million dollar contract was cancelled due to his time in jail and headlines from local media. He was eventually evicted from his apartment and rendered homeless. As far as Konte sees it, any chance of ever rebuilding his personal trainer business is done and over after he was found guilty in the public eye without ever going to trial. If you Google his name, one article from the Edmond Sun remains detailing his arrest with no update of the case being dismissed. He never got to tell his story. Throughout the entire process, Konte maintained his innocence but the initial damage was too severe. It was only when Konte began speaking with Merritt that he began having a glimmer of hope. Konte claims Merritt made promises he either could not keep, or never intended to keep. He believed everything from clearing his name with the media to the civil suit were going to be handled by Merritt. Over six months later, his statute of limitations are almost up and he is in worse legal shape than ever.
Lee Merritt Takes The Case
According to emails between Konte and Merritt, on February 19, 2019, Merritt Law Firm agreed to take the case. In the email it claims Merritt’s office would “immediately begin the preparation and filing of the complaint, within 30 days” of receiving Konte’s initial payment of $2,500. The email also references a $350 consultation fee Konte paid on January 25.
Konte claims he paid the initial fee but then was told later he needed to pay an additional $2,500 for Merritt to take his case. Text messages between Konte and Merritt show he paid the additional amount in April.
By May, after Konte had paid a total of $5,350, nothing had been filed and Merritt appeared to be trying to farm his case out to an Oklahoma attorney. Konte told discuss he was never under the impression that another attorney would be brought on. Even his confirmation email stated Merritt’s office would be handling the filing. At one point Konte claims Merritt told him it would be an additional $25,000 for an Oklahoma attorney to take his case. In a text exchange from May, Merritt added an intern by the name of Blerim Elmazi who was allegedly drafting Konte’s complaint.
Konte was confused after Merritt stated he was trying to get his case waived into the Arkansas Federal courts. In the same text exchange, Merritt claimed they were “actively drafting your complaint.”
By June 10, the complaint still had not been finished despite Merritt’s original claim that his office would file within 28 days. By June 27, not only had Konte’s complaint not been filed, it was not even complete. On June 27, a frustrated Konte texted Merritt and said, “The complaint is not finished. And my case is not filed.” He went on to claim Merritt would not answer his phone calls.
Lee Merritt Drops Bilal Konte
Six months after Merritt’s office said he would take the case he dropped Konte as a client claiming he had become aggressive towards the firm. Konte does not believe he was ever acting aggressive with Merritt or his firm and was instead frustrated by never receiving the legal services he was promised. Konte was shocked to see in an email from Merritt in July he not only confirmed dropping him as a client but went on to claim he was keeping $2,000 of his money for eight hours of “reviewing documentation, legal research, consulting with [Konte] on several occasions and drafting a lawsuit.”
Two days later, Konte responded to Merritt’s email. In his final letter, Konte explains his frustration with Merritt never filing his suit as agreed upon at the time of payment. Konte was confused at Merritt’s attempt to file the case in Arkansas instead of Oklahoma and his use of an intern to put together his “poorly drafted complaint.” The email goes on to read, “As a result of your lack of communication, incompetent counsel, insufficient work and a complete lack of integrity, you have wasted more than six months of my time.” Konte demanded a full refund of his $5,000, which Merritt ended up returning. However, Konte was not able to get his case file back until Tuesday. Konte is now left with no legal representation and a deadline in October to file his case. He says he wanted to come forward because he does not want Merritt to repeat his same actions with anybody else. Overall Konte feels he was scammed by Merritt and lost precious time he will never get back. Discuss attempted to obtain comment from Merritt, but did not receive a response at this time.