Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt pleads no contest; avoids jail time

By Sara Belsole

COLUMBUS, GA – Just over two years after his arrest, Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt pleads no contest to two counts of possession of prescription pills outside the original container.

“We are glad to have this resolved so Mark can go about his life and I think it's an appropriate plea and resolution of all the facts in the case,” Shelnutt's attorney Charles Cox says.

Shelnutt was arrested in September of 2010 after officials say he gave an undercover informant prescription pills more than five times.

Appalachian Circuit District Attorney Joe Hendricks, who took the case after Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater stepped down due to a conflict of interest, says Shelnutt did not charge for the pills.

Shelnutt, who was facing up to two years in prison, was sentenced to two years on probation, granted first offender status and is required to leave the chattahoochee circuit temporarily.

“He is still going to handle cases, he still has cases pending and cases in the future and he will continue to handle them here. He is going to reside out of the circuit and have a fresh state,” Cox says.

Prosecutors told the court this morning the negotiated deal stemmed from Shelnutt's cooperation with ongoing cases that resulted in the discipline of two Superior Court judges.

Shelnutt can return to the area after he completes the state bar's Lawyer's Assistance Program, which will serve as a rehabilitation program for prescription drug abuse.

So far there has been no action taken to take away Shelnutt's law license. Hendricks says only the state bar can make that decision.

“I don't anticipate this will affect his law license at all. He was charged with having medication not in the original container, that's not a crime of moral turpitude,” Cox says.

Hendricks declined to comment on camera but tells NBC 38 he believes Shelnutt leaving the area is “in his best interest for recovery.”

A federal jury ruled Shelnutt was not guilty of 36 charges including money laundering and bribery in 2008.

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