Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Interactions With Witness Draw Public Reprimand

A public reprimand has been imposed by the Louisiana Supreme Court

Respondent represented Brienne Russ in two separate custody cases in Orleans Civil District Court. One case was against her former husband, Wendell Russ, and the second was against her former husband, Michael Hughes. Both fathers were represented by New Orleans attorney Terrance Prout.

Mr. Prout subpoenaed expert witness Dr. Lisa Tropez-Arceneaux, a pediatric psychologist, to provide testimony in both cases, and she appeared at Orleans Civil District Court on three separate occasions to provide expert testimony. Each time, respondent approached her, either in court or outside the courtroom, and made statements to her that made her feel intimidated.

On the first occasion, on October 27, 2016, respondent approached Dr. Tropez-Arceneaux and told her the following: “I’m coming for you;” “You’re not needed here;” “You’re not going to get on the stand;” and “I’m going to make you sit here all day.”

The hearing was continued to November 3, 2016. That morning before the hearing started, respondent approached Dr. Tropez-Arceneaux again, stating the following: “I’m not sure why you’re here” and “You’re not going to testify again today.” When Dr. Tropez-Arceneaux advised respondent that she had been subpoenaed to testify and intended to comply, respondent answered by saying, “Well, you can’t testify to the child’s anxiety, and I am going to get you.” Respondent also once again told her, “I don’t know why you are coming up, because we don’t need you to come up here [to testify].”

The hearing was again continued, this time to January 5, 2017. On that date, respondent again approached Dr. Tropez-Arceneaux and said, “You better stop messing with me, I will get you.” Mr. Hughes was sitting next to Dr. Tropez-Arceneaux when respondent made this statement.


The record of this matter supports a finding that respondent, on three occasions, made statements to Dr. Tropez-Arceneaux that were meant to delay, burden, and intimidate her. This conduct is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct as found by the hearing committee. 


Turning to the issue of an appropriate sanction, we find guidance from the case of In re: Estiverne, 99-0949 (La. 9/24/99), 741 So. 2d 649. After his client received an unfavorable ruling in a worker’s compensation matter, Mr. Estiverne wrote a letter to the hearing officer accusing him of disregarding “all the laws in the books to satisfy your own fantasy” and suggesting that he “refrain from continuing the kind of rape you have been perpetrating against the law.” We concluded that Mr. Estiverne’s conduct violated Rule 4.4 and warranted a public reprimand.

In light of this case law, as well as respondent’s long career with no other disciplinary issues, we will adopt the committee’s recommendation and publicly reprimand respondent.

(Mike Frisch)

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