Friday, May 14, 2021
In disciplinary matters, the Louisiana Supreme Court has long deferred to the expertise and recommendations of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, as reflected in in this decision today
Although respondent only had one conviction for DWI, the record reveals she has a significant unresolved substance abuse issue. Following two separate assessments at JLAP-approved facilities, the treating professionals recommended respondent participate in an inpatient treatment. She has failed to do so; therefore, the record demonstrates her alcohol use disorder remains unresolved.
In brief and argument to this court, respondent argues a fully-deferred suspension is justified because she is not refusing to follow JLAP’s recommendations but, instead, disputes the accuracy of those recommendations. She urges us to impose a fully-deferred suspension, citing In : Lamb, 2019-1460 (La. 11/19/19), 307 So. 3d 175.
The facts of Lamb are clearly distinguishable from the instant case. The respondent in that case was evaluated by JLAP and found to not suffer from a substance use disorder; as such, JLAP did not recommend any further testing or treatment. Lamb, 307 So. 3d at 180. These facts stand in stark contrast to the facts of the case at bar, where multiple JLAP evaluations have determined respondent suffers from an alcohol abuse disorder.
While respondent disputes the conclusions of the JLAP evaluations, this court has long accepted the expertise of JLAP in guiding our decisions. Our purpose is not to punish lawyers purely for their substance abuse disorder, but to protect the public from actual and potential harm by ensuring those members of the profession with such problems obtain suitable treatment and are placed under appropriate monitoring in order to practice law with safety. Because issues of diagnosis and treatment are issues of medical science, our decisions must necessarily be based in large part on the evaluations conducted by trained professionals under the auspices of JLAP. These experts have concluded respondent has unresolved issues of alcohol abuse that must be addressed in order for her to practice law safely.
Accordingly, we conclude the appropriate sanction in this case is a suspension for one year and one day. We will defer all but ninety days of this suspension, subject to the condition that, before being reinstated from the active period of this suspension, respondent shall produce evidence to this court that she is in compliance with all treatment recommendations of JLAP and has entered into an appropriate monitoring contract. Upon compliance with this condition, she shall be entitled to be reinstated, subject to a period of probation to coincide with the length of her monitoring contract and with the condition she fully comply with all requirements of that contract.