Lawyer's Slaying Ignites Safety Concerns
He represented a client in a divorce proceeding, as he’d done for many others in Gwinnett County over the past 30 years. But this time, doing his job cost attorney Douglas Wayne Lewis the ultimate price.
Lewis arrived at his Lawrenceville firm Wednesday, but never made it back home. A visit from his client’s ex-husband ended with Lewis being shot and killed, and his office set on fire, according to police.
The violent crime has sent shockwaves through the Georgia legal community, leading some jurists to open up about their own safety concerns handling emotionally charged litigation.
Law Office Set on Fire
A Dec. 8 statement from the Gwinnett County Bar Association to its membership made jurists aware of Lewis’ death.
“GCBA is sad to announce the tragic death of member, Doug Lewis, yesterday Wednesday Dec. 7, 2022,” the bar association said in its letter to members. “The matter is still under investigation, however a suspect was arrested shortly after and remains in custody.”
Lawrenceville police later revealed to local media outlets that Lewis had been in his law office alone when a Dacula man named Allen Tayeh walked in and shot him.
Investigators believe Tayeh then poured gasoline inside the firm and started a fire before leaving, per Lawrenceville Police Lt. Jake Parker.
“Officers were directed to a male walking away from the scene,” Lawrenceville police said in a statement, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post report. “This male was detained as a suspect. However, he needed medical attention for burn injuries.”
‘Most Professional Attorney’
As the principal of Douglas W. Lewis Law, Lewis spent the past three decades handling family law, civil litigation and criminal defense, according to his firm profile.
In his role as a family lawyer, he’d represented clients in a variety of proceedings ranging from divorce and custody to child support, modifications and contempt actions. Lewis’ office profile also detailed his handling of restraining and protective order proceedings, as well as what he’d labeled “contentious move away proceedings.”
Lewis had been licensed with the State Bar of Georgia since 1992, following his graduation from the West Virginia University School of Law. As of Friday, his bar profile had been updated to reflect his sudden death that’d impacted many local jurists. As news of Lewis’ death spread, some lawyers took to social media.
“Douglas Lewis was murdered last night,” tweeted an attorney by the handle @FieldingPierce. “I drive by his office every time I go to court.”
Attorney Regina I. Edwards, who has offices in Lawrenceville and Atlanta, said the lawyer’s slaying had “shaken up the family law community.”
“Divorce law is one of the most contentious areas of law. We need to be kinder to each other,” Edwards said. “Mr. Lewis was the kindest, most professional attorney, and the other party still embarked on a campaign of revenge.”
With Lewis’ death top of mind, the Edwards Family Law attorney suggested safety measures attorneys can employ to help protect themselves, especially when handling volatile proceedings.
“Keep the front door locked and install outdoor cameras. Delivery people and clients with appointments can be buzzed in after confirming identity,” Edwards said. ”Keep a lock box outside so people can drop off documents and checks after hours without you coming to the door.”
Edwards suggested lawyers forgo working alone at the office at night, but said if they must, to refrain from providing outsiders access to the firm for any reason. In addition to having an alarm system and signage reflecting its active connection to local police, the 22-year family law attorney recommended installing panic buttons throughout the office, and having a backup way to escape from the building.
“Your local police department can arrange for safety training for your office,” Edwards said. “Some attorneys are keeping firearms in their office. Make sure to get appropriate training for anyone who may have to use the firearm.”
‘Nature of the Job’
As an Atlanta criminal defense attorney, Michael Bixon of Bixon Law encouraged lawyers to remain cognizant of safety precautions as part of their job.
“Whenever you’re handling a case where there’s heightened tension or emotion and people have a lot on the line, it’s easy to understand why you could encounter someone who could shift blame to the attorney,” Bixon said. “I think it’s part of the nature of the job.”
Bixon said jurists are often afforded on-site security when litigating cases in the courtroom, but pointed out most jurists lack equal protection beyond the courthouse doors.
“The reality is that unless you’re hiring private security for your office, which most attorneys would not, there is always that potential threat or possibility of harm coming your way,” Bixon said. “The most important thing for an attorney is to be mindful of that and be aware of it.”