Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Suspicious But Not Unethical

A Louisiana hearing committee found "clear and convincing evidence of a cavalier manner of handling legal fees and delineation of representation" but no disciplinary violations in a case where the lawyer was charged, among other things, in assisting and failing to rectify client fraud. The committee recommends dismissal of the charges.

In one matter, the lawyer's incarecerated client (Alexander) told another prisoner that the lawyer would represent him for $5,000 and a Rolex watch. The client's wife borrowed the money, which the lawyer received by cashier's check along with the watch. The lawyer applied the payment to his client's fees and provided no services to the other prisoner. When the wife contacted him, he refused to return the payment and the watch. The second matter involved the same client, another prisoner, and another unreturned fee of $5,000. The fees were returned after the Bar had filed charges.

The attorney indicated that the client was president of the Louisiana chapter of the Hell's Angels. He was told by the client that "his people" would deliver money for his fees, and that he understood that the payments were for the ongoing representation of that client.

The committee found that the evidence did not establish that the lawyer knew he was being paid to represent the two complaining prisoners:

While the transactions involved are certainly susceptible to being interpreted as "suspicious," the evidence presented does not reach the threshold necessary for proof of a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility. On its face, and against the "clear and convincing" standard, the evidence presents nothing more than justification for suspicion; taken at face value, the evidence leads only to the conclusion that Respondent was not careful about his record keeping, or the delineation of his business arrangements...There is nothing in the evidence from which we can conclude that Respondent did not in good faith believe the fees in question to have been for payment on Jesse Alexander's account.

(Mike Frisch)


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