February 11, 2009
No Accounting, No Violation
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, with two attorney and one lay member dissenting, concluded that an attorney had not violated any ethics rules in the representation of a client on cocaine charges. The board majority held attorney did not violate rules governing fees in charging a flat fee of $1,000 per count for a total $2,000 fee. The fee was found to be reasonable, although not reduced to writing the question of whether there was a previous professional relationship was "unanswered," the fee was earned on receipt and did not need to be placed in a trust account, and there was no obligation to provide an accounting because the client's father (not the client) had asked for it.
The dissenters believe that the father, who had paid the fee, was entitled to an accounting and that the lawyer should be suspended for 90 days. Further, the disputed (and arguably unearned) fees should have been placed in a trust account: "The fact that the fee was determined to be reasonable and that none of the fee should be returned to [the client's father] does not negate this violation. Respondent had an obligation to provide the accounting and suggest a means to resolve the fee dispute, regardless of his belief that the fee was reasonable and earned. If such a requirement is not enforced, attorneys could simply mandate that their fees are reasonable, never provide accountings, never place disputed funds in trust and never facilitate, through arbitration or other means, the settlement of fee issues." (Mike Frisch)
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