Monday, April 22, 2024

Judicial Clerk Misconduct Draws Permanent Disbarment Recommendation

The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board recommends permanent disbarment in a matter involving misconduct by a judicial clerk

While employed at the Second Circuit, Respondent knowingly and intentionally corrupted the judicial process by surreptitiously collecting confidential court information and court records, including confidential court information and court records pertaining to H. Williams's pending matters. Respondent emailed the confidential court information and court records to her private email, to H. Williams, and to others. Respondent also saved confidential court information and court records to a personal flash drive, which never was recovered. Respondent conducted legal research and drafted pleadings, memoranda, and correspondence with the intention that the pleadings, memoranda, and correspondence would be filed on behalf of H. Williams with the Second Circuit under another attorney's signature. In perpetrating this extensive fraud on the court, Respondent used State resources that included a court-provided computer, copier, paper, and Westlaw subscription...

Criminal charges 

On October 24, 2022[,] Respondent entered a nolo contendere plea to a charge that on or about and between the dates of February 1, 2018, and August 16, 2018, Respondent did intentionally disclose, use, copy, take or access, without consent, intellectual property defined in La. R.S. 14:73.1(10), ODC-66, p. 3160

Among the extensive findings of the hearing committee

Hahn Williams was a close friend to Judge Henry N. Brown, Jr., then-Chief Judge of the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal. Judge Brown and Hanh Williams now are married.

Hanh Williams was a "long time, close friend" and former client of Respondent. Respondent testified that Hanh Williams was like a sister.

The board

the situation at hand is not one where Respondent performed an appropriate duty poorly; rather, this is a situation where Respondent did things that she could not have done properly under any circumstance. See Parker B. Potter, Jr., Law Clerks Gone Wild, 34 Seattle U. L. Review 173, 183 (2010).

Recommended sanction

after consideration of the ABA's Standards, Rule XIX, Appendix D, Guideline 2, similar jurisprudence, the Supreme Court's commentary in its Statement of the Court Concerning the [Dobbs] Leak Investigation, and the aggravating factors present, the appropriate sanction for Respondent's misconduct appears to be permanent disbarment.

KTBS 3 reported on the incident

The alleged hacking occurred in July 2018. Brown's secretary had checked a copy machine and saw that someone had tried to print confidential information such as memos and drafts of the pending opinion involving Chu’s friend. The copy machine had shut down when it ran out of toner.

Judge Brown’s colleagues on the court fired Chu and filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Office, which began investigating.

The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered Brown to stay away from the 2nd Circuit courthouse after a fellow judge who was considering the appeal filed a complaint Brown was trying to intimidate him, court documents reviewed by KTBS News say. Brown, who has denied any improper behavior and has not been accused of involvement in the alleged hacking, retired shortly after that.

The judges whose draft opinions were hacked upheld the lower court verdict against Chu’s friend.

Authorities acknowledged Chu’s arrest came as she was running for a judgeship but said the investigation started long before she filed to run. An arrest was delayed by office shutdowns due to coronavirus and a review of the case by the state attorney general’s office, said Caddo District Attorney James Stewart, whose office will prosecute Chu.

he appeals court case involves Hanh Williams, who was accused of breaching her fiduciary duty as the trustee and executrix of a man's trust and estate. Williams, a financial planner, over time had become involved in all of that man's financial affairs, court records show.

A Caddo District Court civil jury in November 2016 awarded $1.5 million in damages to the estate of the man, Fred Houston of Shreveport. Allegations in the lawsuit questioned some billings and expenses to Houston and then to his estate after he died.

Williams said she was a good steward of Houston’s money and defended the charges as appropriate. She appealed the verdict to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal.

Authorities said Chu emailed some of the documents in the pending appeals court opinion to Williams and also provided her legal advice on how to proceed in the case. They said Chu told a detective she was only interested in her friend’s case and had no malicious intent when she accessed the file.

(Mike Frisch)

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