Friday, January 7, 2022

Billing Misconduct Was Negligent

The Louisiana Attorney Discipline Board has recommended a fully-stayed six month suspension for billing misconduct

On or about October 10, 2017, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel received a complaint authored by Dane Ciolino on behalf of the Law Firm of Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy. That firm is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware and devotes a substantial portion of its practice to asbestos claims defense. That firm established a New Orleans, Louisiana presence in or about October 1, 2015 following a merger of that firm with the Forman Watkins Firm. The Respondent was the managing officer of the New Orleans office for Maron Marvel.

Respondent’s employment with Forman Watkins ended when that firm merged with Maron Marvel who determined that it would be appropriate to initiate its own New Orleans based presence with the Respondent as the managing partner. The change in Respondent’s employment status began on or about October 1, 2015 and remained there until his dismissal by the firm on or about September 13, 2017.

The complaint alleges that the Maron Marvel firm “came to learn that Respondent had billed one or more clients for depositions that he either did not attend or that he attended by telephone, but nevertheless billed for travel. The firm confronted Mr. Morton the next day. He admitted that he may have billed for travel time and mileage when he in fact took depositions by phone, and that he may have billed for depositions that he did not attend.”

The Respondent has acknowledged that he issued improper bills to clients that included attendance at depositions at which he did not participate and for mileage where he either did not participate or participated by phone obviating the need for travel expense reimbursement. Respondent does acknowledge that he owes a considerable refund to both the firm and/or the adversely effected [sic] client totaling at least $10,316.27. As of this date restitution has not been made.

A probated sanction is appropriate because the Board agreed with the hearing committee's finding that that misconduct was negligent

. . . Respondent’s mental state at the time of submitting his time and expense entries was not to intentionally bill for the depositions that he did not attend or attended by telephone for personal gain. The Respondent was negligent in submitting time and expense entries in advanced [sic] of the calendared depositions and failing to delete the time and expense entries from the pre-bills when the depositions were cancelled or changed due to being so overwhelmed with work that he did not recognize the improper entries.

The Committee’s finding that Respondent’s conduct was negligent and caused by his being overwhelmed with work at the firm is supported by the record and is adopted by the Board. The record shows that Respondent started the practice of pre-entering time and/or travel expenses when his office was inadequately staffed and handling approximately 6,500–8,000 asbestos claims. He was also handling his managerial duties at the firm which included conducting the day-to-day business operations of the firm, managing the staff, and attending to personnel issues. ODC Exhibit 7, Sworn Statement of Respondent, pp. 25, 64-65. Respondent also reviewed several hundred pages of pre-bills each month for the firm’s New Orleans office, including pre-bills for an insurance client, Ingersoll Rand, and Trane. Id. at 53-54. Due to his case load and managerial duties, he negligently failed to correct the pre-bills which contained his erroneous time and expense entries for the thirteen depositions at issue.

As explained above, it is also important to note that while Respondent received a financial gain for his improper billing of travel expenses (for which he has paid restitution), he received no financial gain for his erroneous time entries.

(Mike Frisch)

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