Friday, November 8, 2019
A disbarment from the Louisiana Supreme Court in a representation of a slip-and-fall plaintiff
In September 2015, respondent was hired to represent Beverly Bailey in a claim for injuries she sustained following a slip and fall accident at a Walmart store. Shortly thereafter, respondent sent Mrs. Bailey to Capitol Spine and Rehabilitation Clinic (“the clinic”) for treatment. He also gave her an $800 loan.
The client retained new counsel when she was unable to contact him.
The new attorney learned the case had been settled.
Over the next two years, Mrs. Bailey had difficulty communicating with respondent regarding her case. In November 2017, Mrs. Bailey sought assistance from attorney John McKay. Mr. McKay contacted the Walmart claims department and learned that the case had settled in June 2016 for $16,000. Upon receiving a copy of the check from Walmart, Mr. McKay noted that the check was made payable to “Beverly Baily & Leroy Baily, indiv & as husb & wife & the Law Offices of Michael T Bell LLC.”1
However, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey were not aware of the settlement, and neither of them signed the check or received any settlement proceeds therefrom.
Respondent’s conduct meets virtually all the criteria for disbarment. As noted by the hearing committee, respondent acted with a dishonest and selfish motive. He settled Mrs. Bailey’s case without her authorization, charged interest on money that he loaned to her, and then retained settlement funds that belonged to her. Clearly, respondent did not act in a manner consistent with his client’s interest. In addition, the certified document examiner expert determined that the signatures on the back of the settlement check were not those of Mr. or Mrs. Bailey. Finally, the duration of the deprivation of funds has been extensive, as respondent still has not made restitution to Mrs. Bailey or to the chiropractor who treated her. Considering that respondent has also failed to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation, we agree that disbarment is the appropriate sanction in this case.