De Minimis Violations Not Sanctionable

MicroscopeAll disciplinary violations are not created equal. The Louisiana Supreme Court has held that conduct constituting a relatively minor violation of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct will not result in disciplinary sanctions if no harm results. The court reconfirmed this principle in In re Dalton, 09-B-1288 (La. Oct. 2, 2009). In Dalton, Lake Charles lawyer Richard Dalton reduced his fees from $6,900 to $4,000, allegedly without first obtaining his client’s informed consent as required by Rule 1.4. The court concluded “that any harm resulting from these rule violations was de minimis in nature, as the reduction of fees was actually to the client’s benefit.” As a result, the court held:

Not every violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct warrants the imposition of formal discipline. See, e.g., In re: Cabibi, 05-1217 (La. 2/22/06), 922 So. 2d 490, and In re: Hartley, 03-2828 (La. 4/2/04), 869 So. 2d 799. Given the limited resources of the disciplinary system, the ODC should act wisely to ensure that the charges it chooses to file will satisfy the overarching goals of the disciplinary process, namely, maintaining high standards of conduct, protecting the public, preserving the integrity of the profession, and deterring future misconduct. Louisiana State Bar Ass’n v. Reis, 513 So. 2d 1173 (La. 1987).

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