Raleigh lawyer reprimanded for obscene messages on Wake Register of Deeds’ voicemail

The State Bar has reprimanded Raleigh attorney Ronald Garber for repeatedly leaving obscene voicemail messages for Laura Riddick, the former Wake County register of deeds now in prison for embezzlement.

Riddick filed the grievance in August of 2018, shortly before a Superior Court judge sentenced her to five to seven years behind bars and ordered her to repay $926,000, which she did that day.

In documents provided to the State Bar, Riddick described being stalked and sexually harassed by Garber for six months in 2014, leading to mental stress that heightened health problems and triggered panic attacks.

In those documents, she said Garber became “fixated” on her while urging her to run for Wake County Clerk of Court, making improper advances. She did not know him well at the time but was more familiar with his law partners at Boxley, Bolton, Garber & Haywood, who frequented the register of deeds office.

He invited her to join him at a downtown Raleigh chocolate and coffee shop, made improper advances and asked her to bite a piece of chocolate out of his mouth, which she declined, the documents said. The next day, the lawyer sent a box of chocolate-covered cherries to her office.

Soon after, he left vulgar and sexually explicit messages on her office phone — several times a day, the documents said. Copies provided to The News & Observer show the messages to each be several minutes long. Other staff at the register of deeds office reported seeing him peeking into Riddick’s office windows from the sidewalk outside and following her car.

During Riddick’s plea last year, her attorney Joe Zeszotarski called Riddick’s behavior inexcusable but emphasized that she was influenced by a rough childhood that contributed to crippling anxiety and “a compulsion to hoard money.” In documents to the State Bar, she said the dread of seeing Garber accelerated her psychological decline.

Initially, she told neither her husband nor police, though she shared the recordings with her staff. She later forwarded them to the Wake County attorney.

Garber did not respond to a voicemail message left at his Raleigh law office.

In its reprimand, the State Bar writes, “You left a series of obscene voicemail messages for a courthouse official, which caused her distress and interfered with the performance of her duties. This course of conduct was unprofessional, inappropriate and prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

The Bar noted that a reprimand is more serious than an admonition, but the complaint did not require Garber to be censured. The committee said it considered that Garber had not been otherwise disciplined in more than 40 years of law practice.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.