Friday, June 21, 2024

Who Put The Bump?

The Louisiana Supreme Court imposed a stipulated public reprimand for walking into opposing counsel in a dmestic matter

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) commenced an investigation into allegations that respondent was a litigant in a domestic matter when he encountered the attorney for his spouse in a court hallway and walked into her,  causing her emotional upset but no physical injuries. Prior to the filing of formal charges, respondent and the ODC submitted a joint petition for consent discipline, in which the parties stipulated that respondent violated Rules 8.4(a), 8.4(b), and 8.4(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Having reviewed the petition,

IT IS ORDERED that the Petition for Consent Discipline be accepted and that N. Sundiata Haley, Louisiana Bar Roll number 26317, be publicly reprimanded.

The incident apparently is the subject of this decision of the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

On August 8, 2018, the parties were present in the district court for a hearing in Mr. Haley's divorce proceeding. Ms. Williams alleges that while she and Mr. Haley were in the hallway of the court on that date, he made eye contact with her prior to pushing her into a wall with his upper body.

Following the alleged incident, Ms. Williams visited the Louisiana Supreme Court's webpage for the Louisiana Protective Order Registry and obtained a petition for temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction, also known as a LPOR Form O, the Original Petition, which she subsequently completed and filed on August 10, 2018.

In the Original Petition, Ms. Williams alleged that while the parties were present in the district court for a hearing in the divorce proceeding, Mr. Haley shoved her against a wall in a hallway, allegedly battering her. She further pleaded that "[b]ecause of the immediate and present danger of abuse, stalking or sexual assault" she was requesting "an ex parte Temporary Restraining Order be issued without prior notice."

The court 

we do find merit in Mr. Haley's assertion that the permanent injunction improperly restricts his ability to collect the attorney's fee judgment rendered against Ms. Williams, as well as restricts his ability to practice law in any case involving Ms. Williams. The district court, as noted above, enjoined Mr. Haley and his agents or assigns from "harassing, threatening, coming into any physical contact" with Ms. Williams and "from communicating with her in any manner."

Communication would be necessary to some degree between the parties, or between Ms. Williams and Mr. Haley's attorneys to coordinate payment of the October 31, 2018 attorney's fee judgment. Moreover, the parties and Mr. Haley's attorneys are all practicing lawyers in a relatively small metropolitan area. In consideration of these facts, it is foreseeable that these attorneys may occasionally, professionally interact and may have the need to communicate.

We find that the Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by the Supreme Court of Louisiana pursuant to its exclusive and plenary power to regulate the practice of law, are binding upon the parties herein and are sufficient to regulate their conduct, specifically their communication. See Rules 4.2 and 4.4(a), Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. Thus, we amend the March 12, 2019 judgment, removing the restriction of "and from communicating with her in any manner." We affirm the permanent injunction as amended.

Judge Dysart concurred and dissented in part

Mr. Haley’s egregious behavior without any sliver of remorse would indicate to me there should be no opportunity for communication with Ms. Williams, at least until Mr. Haley is contrite and acknowledges his improper behavior. Mr. Haley is represented by counsel and, therefore, there is no need for him to communicate with Ms. Williams. While I would maintain the permanent injunction barring Mr. Haley from communicating with Ms. Williams, I would remove the restriction of communication between Mr. Haley’s counsel and Ms. Williams.

Accordingly, I dissent from the majority in the award of attorney’s fees and in removing the language regarding communications between the parties.

The Louisiana Supreme Court reviewed the above proceeding.

From the concurring opinion

 Considering the unique facts of this case, the conduct of respondent, and the fact that relator was ultimately successful in obtaining a permanent injunction against respondent, the district court's decision to award attorney's fees in connection with respondent's motion to dissolve the temporary restraining order was an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the judgment of October 31, 2018, awarding respondent attorney's fees in the amount of $8,290.00 is reversed.

Further, considering the egregious nature of respondent's behavior, the trial court did not manifestly err in permanently enjoining respondent “from communicating with [relator] in any manner.” Accordingly, the ruling of the court of appeal amending the March 12, 2019 judgment to remove the restriction barring respondent from communicating with relator is reversed, and the trial court judgment prohibiting respondent from communicating with relator in any manner is reinstated. The ruling of the court of appeal, insofar as it removes the restriction barring communications between relator and respondent's agents or assigns, is affirmed.

I agree with the per curiam in its entirety. I write separately to note my agreement with Judge Dysart's dissent in part insofar as he described respondent's conduct herein as “shocking” and “completely abhorrent.” See Williams v. Haley, 19-0116 (La. App. 4 Cir. 6/3/20), 302 So. 3d 13 (Dysart, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Respondent, an officer of the court, appears to have intentionally veered into relator in a hallway, knocking her against a wall. This conduct may have met the standards set forth in R.S. 14:33 for a battery, as noted by both the trial court and Judge Dysart. See La. R. Prof. Conduct R. 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), R. 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). See also In re: DeJean, 18-1333 (La. 1/30/19), 264 So. 3d 424 (imposing suspension of one year and one day where respondent was charged with simple battery after “chest bumping” another attorney in the courthouse). Finally, I agree with Judge Dysart's astute observation that respondent engaged in “egregious behavior without any sliver of remorse.” In light of these outrageous circumstances, I agree with the per curiam that the award of attorney's fees to respondent was an abuse of discretion.

(Mike Frisch)

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