May 14, 2007
Improper Witness Payment
An attorney was suspended for three years, with 18 months deferred, by the Louisiana Supreme Court last Friday. The attorney was one of eight appointed members of a Plaintiff's Legal Committee ("PLC") in a federal class action arising out of an explosion at a Shell Oil Company facility. He was introduced to a longtime Shell employee who told him that Shell's lawyers were destroying evidence and "teaching witnesses to lie." The employee made it clear that he expected to be compensated for his help. The attorney agreed and paid the employee/informant $5,000. Thereafter, the attorney failed to correct statements of co-counsel to the tribunal that denied that there had been such payment.
The attorney was found to have violated the ethical prohibition against payments to a fact witness and to have misled the tribunal by failing to correct the inaccurate representations. The federal court imposed a one-year suspension. The Louisiana court rejected a majority Board recommendation of disbarment over the dissent of a single judge who would have imposed a "more severe" sanction. (Mike Frisch)
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