Wednesday, November 22, 2023
The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to disbar an attorney and imposed a three-year suspension that drew dissents from two justices
The record establishes by clear and convincing evidence that respondent failed to properly supervise his non-lawyer staff, resulting in the conversion of approximately $4.2 million belonging to third parties, intentionally continued to convert third-party funds totaling approximately $1.8 million in order to pay older third-party debts, failed to maintain a trust account for several years, lied on his trust account disclosure statements that he did not handle client funds, allowed nonlawyers to sign trust account checks, charged clients for inappropriate office expenses, settled a client’s personal injury claim without the client’s knowledge or consent, and lied to the ODC during its investigation. This conduct amounts to a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct as found by the hearing committee and modified by the disciplinary board.
Considering the mitigating factors present, in particular the significant restitution respondent has already made and continues to make, we find a downward deviation from the baseline sanction[of disbarment] is appropriate. Accordingly, we will impose a three-year suspension from the practice of law. We will further order respondent to make full restitution to the third-party providers to whom money is still owed.
In describing the conversion of funds in which respondent engaged as a “rolling conversion,” akin to “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” the sheer breadth and volume of respondent’s transgressions is understated. Between 2009 and 2019 (a 10-year period), respondent converted a total of approximately $6 million. Id., slip op. at 10. Respondent’s behavior is more akin to robbing Peter and Paul to pay John, James, Matthew and Luke.
The majority acknowledges all of these facts and yet finds a downward deviation from the baseline sanction of disbarment is appropriate, citing respondent’s lack of a prior disciplinary record, remorse, and “good faith” efforts at restitution. Respectfully, I disagree.
I agree with the majority’s finding that respondent has violated the multitude of Rules of Professional Conduct as alleged. However, I disagree with the significant downward deviation made by the majority to impose the sanction of three years suspension, as I find it unduly lenient. The majority determined that the mitigating factors, notably restitution made by respondent, support the downward deviation. In my view, the restitution that respondent made does indeed support such a deviation, but only from the permanent disbarment recommended by the Disciplinary Board to regular disbarment.