Wednesday, March 18, 2009
In a matter of first impression, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that an attorney could be subject to professional discipline for a violation of the immunity provisions of the rules of disciplinary enforcement. The provision provides immunity from civil suits to a complainant or witness in a bar discipline proceeding. The court held that the provision creates an absolute privilege that immunizes the actor from suit "no matter how wrongful the [complaint] might be..."
The lawyer had been the subject of a series of three complaints from a dissatisfied client who also happened to be his sister. As a result, he filed a civil defamation action against her. The court agreed with the conclusion below that the immunity provision rendered the suit frivolous. The court further noted that, even if the defamation suit was not frivolous, its filing was conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The court imposed a public reprimand. The violation was a knowing one and had harmed the sister by forcing her to defend the action. The attorney sincerely believed that his actions were permissible "making any finding of lack of remorse inappropriate." The court noted that he had represented his sister at his parents urging and had sued her "in an attempt to put to an end to what the ODC determined to be baseless complaints on the part of his former client." He had no disciplinary record in 20 years of practice.
The court has a useful discussion of the history of the immunity provisions that are in force in most jurisdictions. This case is worth a read. (Mike Frisch)