August 7, 2009
Financial Assistance To Clients
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board found, contrary to a hearing committee's findings, that an attorney had engaged in commingling and two instances of conversion. As a result, the board rejected the proposed sanction of public censure and recommended a three-year suspension. The decision also addresses the rule with respect to providing financial assistance to a client.
The charges dealt with the lawyer's dealings with one particular personal injury client. The lawyer was accused of using the client as a "runner." The client made two undocumented loans to the lawyer, which were promptly repaid. The lawyer paid for the client's BMW repairs and also gave the client monthly payments of over $1,300. In the main, the hearing committee rejected the most serious charges regarding the lawyer-client dealings.
The board noted that the rule in Louisiana regarding advancing living expenses has a "long and tortuous history" caused by a disconnect between the text of the Rule and the "actual standard" developed in the case law. Also, the hearing committee cited a version of the rule that had not been adopted when the conduct took place. The board agreed with Disciplinary Counsel's argument that the rule was violated here because the obligation to repay the attorney was undocumented. The board concluded that its findings regarding the mishandling of escrowed funds merited a lengthy suspension. (Mike Frisch)
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