Friday, February 1, 2019
Suspension With Fitness For In Chambers Chest Bump: Third Instance Of "Overly Aggressive Or Physically Abusive Behavior"
The Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended an attorney for a year and a day.
Before we address the current charges, we find it helpful to review respondent’s prior disciplinary history. After being admitted to the practice of law in Louisiana in 1997, respondent’s first encounter with the disciplinary system occurred in 2006, when he consented to a two-year period of probation imposed by the disciplinary board for “physical altercations and behaviors” caused by his bipolar disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and prior use of marijuana and alcohol. In re: DeJean, 06-DB-057 (11/10/06). As a condition of probation, respondent and the ODC agreed that he would execute a two-year contract with the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (“JLAP”). Respondent successfully complied with his obligations under the JLAP contract, and in November 2008, the ODC notified respondent that his probation had been successfully concluded.
There followed a series of reprimands and admonishments.
On March 19, 2015, respondent was present in the chambers of Judge Kathy Johnson of the Seventh Judicial District Court for the Parish of Concordia for a conference in a criminal case. Also present in chambers were the District Attorney, Bradley Burget, and First Assistant District Attorney Ann Siddall. At the conclusion of the conference, as the parties were leaving the judge’s chambers, a physical altercation occurred. Mr. Burget claims that respondent exchanged words with him, physically confronted him and “chest bumped” him. Respondent claims that Mr. Burget instigated the altercation and that he acted in self-defense.
He was convicted of simple battery at a bench trial and lost all appeals.
By its very nature, respondent’s criminal conduct was intentional. He violated duties owed to the public, the legal system, and the legal profession, causing actual harm to the profession and potential harm to Mr. Burget. The sanctions in our jurisprudence in prior cases concerning attorneys who have engaged in violent conduct range from a period of suspension to disbarment. By their nature, the cases in this area tend to be very fact specific, making it difficult to synthesize any broad precepts. However, it may be said that in general, the severity of the sanctions depend on the intent of the perpetrator, the harm resulting from the actions and the context in which the conduct occurs.
In the case at bar, respondent’s actions were unquestionably intentional, although they caused no actual harm to Mr. Burget. The conduct occurred in a judge’s chambers, but outside the view of the general public. Considering these factors, we believe a baseline sanction of suspension is applicable.
The criminal punishment was a mitigating factor but
Of the aggravating factors, we must place particular emphasis on the fact that this matter is respondent’s third disciplinary proceeding since 2006 which involves overly aggressive or physically abusive behavior. These are not isolated incidents. Indeed, the trial court which presided over the criminal case expressed clear concern over respondent’s mental state, as demonstrated by the fact it required respondent to submit to a psychological evaluation and successfully complete an anger management program as conditions of probation.
Considering respondent’s disciplinary history, we find it appropriate to fashion a sanction which is both responsive to respondent’s current misconduct and which will protect the public in the future by requiring him to demonstrate fitness prior to being reinstated to the practice of law.