Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dysfunctional Family

The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has recommended a suspension of one year, with all but three months suspended and unsupervised probation for nine months where an attorney had filed a defamation suit against his sister (and former client) and thereafter agreed to dismiss on conditions that included her not bringing further ethics complaints against him. He also sought a $15,000 penalty per future complaint.

The lawyer had represented his sister in a number of civil matters. She began filing bar grievances in 1994. No discipline was imposed as a result. She sought review of the dismissals to no avail. He filed suit in 2003 claiming, among other things, that the bar complaints were defamatory. The settlement proposals at issue here came after mediation had failed. The defamation claims were found to be frivolous and to have violated Rule 8.4(d) because of the "chilling effect" on the disciplinary process.

The Board concluded:

In this case, the Respondent has violated duties owed to the legal system and to his client, Ms. Raspanti. Notwithstanding the clear and unequivocal prohibition in Section 12(A), Respondent proceeded to file a defamation action against Ms. Raspanti based upon the complaints she filed with ODC relating to Respondent's alleged misconduct. Respondent's vigorously pursued his claim. He amended his suit three (3) times in an effort to establish his claims. Respondent refused to dismiss his defamation claims, despite opposing counsel's assertion that the claims were barred under Section 12(A). Ms. Raspanti was harmed by Respondent's actions as she was forced to defend the defamation claims. Moreover, Respondent's retaliatory action threatens to undermine the disciplinary system with its potential "chilling effect" upon a client's willingness to file a complaint with ODC. Aggravating factors include Respondent's refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct, lack of remorse, substantial experience in the practice of law, and indifference to making restitution or minimizing the harmful affects of his misconduct. Mitigating factors include no prior disciplinary record.

The Board further concluded that the hearing committee's proposed public reprimand was an insufficient sanction for the misconduct. (Mike Frisch)

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That is a great cautionary tale when thinking of representing relatives and also serves somewhat as a polite excuse to get out of a request by one.

Posted by: Alan Childress | May 15, 2008 7:45:34 AM

Alan's point is well taken. I have had cause to question my own judgment in taking on relatives and friends (read former friends)as clients. The other take away point from this case is that when lawyers get mad, they get suspended more frequently than they get even.

Posted by: Mike Frisch | May 15, 2008 12:30:10 PM

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