Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Actual Suspension Required For Systematic Practice While Administratively Suspended

The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected the sanction of a public reprimand and imposed a six-month suspension with all but 30 days deferred for an attorney's practice while administratively suspended.

The attorney had appeared as counsel in a juvenile detention hearing and the judge checked his status

Judge Haney instructed his law clerk to contact respondent to inform him that he was listed as ineligible to practice law by the LSBA. Respondent told the law clerk that he would investigate the matter and report back to the court, but when Judge Haney had not heard from respondent, he filed a complaint with the ODC.

On two occasions, the ODC forwarded a copy of the complaint to respondent and requested a response. Respondent failed to file a written response to the complaint, necessitating the issuance of a subpoena to obtain his sworn statement. Respondent appeared for the statement but refused to answer any questions, stating that he would be hiring an attorney to represent him and that he would not participate in the sworn statement at that time. Two weeks later, respondent reappeared at the ODC’s offices, accompanied by his attorney, and gave a sworn statement, during which he admitted that he had engaged in the active and continuous practice of law from September 9, 2015 to June 8, 2016, a significant portion of the time that he was ineligible to practice.

At the hearing committee level

...the committee recommended respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months, with all but thirty days deferred, followed by one year of unsupervised probation.

Respondent objected to the hearing committee’s report, arguing that the recommended sanction was too harsh.

The Disciplinary Board imposed a public reprimand.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel appealed.

The court

Respondent (who has been ineligible for seven of thirteen years since his admission to the bar in 2005) was declared ineligible in 2014 for failing to comply with his professional obligations. During this time, he made at least one court appearance on behalf of a client. Considering respondent’s “repeated past failures to comply with his professional obligations,” his conduct cannot be excused as “a simple oversight.” Therefore, as we found in Oldenburg, it is clear that “an actual period of suspension is warranted.”

By contrast, the cases cited by the disciplinary board do not reflect respondent’s lengthy history of failing to fulfill his professional obligations and practicing law while ineligible. As noted in the hearing committee’s report, respondent had an additional period of ineligibility (September 9, 2014 through February 4, 2015) not included in the formal charges. The several mitigating factors present in this case are simply not enough to overcome this history.

Considering the jurisprudence, we find that an appropriate sanction in this matter is a six-month suspension, with all but thirty days deferred, followed by a one-year period of unsupervised probation. We will also order respondent to attend Ethics School.

Justice Hughes would uphold the board's sanction. (Mike Frisch)


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