November 2013 Discipline

Louisiana State SealThe following Louisiana lawyers were the subject of Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary orders or Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board recommendations made public during the month of November 2013. The month in discipline was a busy one.

Louisiana Supreme Court

  1. LaShonda G. DeRouen. The court suspended (by consent) Ms. DeRouen for a period of one year and one day, all deferred. ODC and the respondent stipulated that she violated Rules 1.15(a & f), 5.3(a & b), presumably for failing to supervise a nonlawyer assistant’s handling of client trust funds.
  2. Debra L. Cassibry. The court suspended the respondent for one year and one day. She had been arrested for DWI in 2009 after a high-speed chase. She thereafter violated the conditions of her probation and had an outstanding warrant for her arrest. After being reported to ODC, she failed to release to ODC the results of a substance-abuse evaluation. The court typically imposes a period of actual suspension for a DWI conviction only in cases of recidivism or in cases where there is evidence that the lawyer has an unresolved substance abuse problem. Here, the court found that the respondent’s failure to release information about her present condition called for suspension.
  3. Leslie R. Leavoy, Jr. The court suspended the respondent for two years, all deferred. He misled one client regarding the status of her case to conceal his lack of diligence in failing to file a lawsuit. Furthermore, he was convicted of DWI and was too intoxicated to appear in court for a felony pretrial hearing day. Because his misconduct was directly related to substance dependence, and because he is now sober and subject to a LAP agreement, the ccourt fully deferred his suspension. Justice Clark dissented and would have imposed six months of actual suspension.
  4. M. Randall Donald. The court suspended the respondent for six months, all deferred. The respondent accepted a $600 fee to handle the cancellation of a judgment previously discharged in bankruptcy. The respondent failed to do the work, to communicate with his clients and to refund the fee.
  5. Robert Liptak. The court denied the petition for reinstatement filed by the respondent and prohibited him from reapplying for a period of at least one year and until he demonstrates at least one year of sobriety.
  6. Walter W. Gerhardt. The court reinstated Mr. Gerhardt after a suspension for a year and a day. ODC took no position on reinstatement and did not object to the hearing committee’s favorable recommendation for the petitioner.
  7. Heidi M. Vessel. The court publicly reprimanded the respondent (by consent) for making undisclosed inappropriate comments to employees of the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court clerk’s office.
  8. Frank J. Larré. The court suspended the respondent (by consent) for a period of one year and one day, with all but ninety days deferred, for practicing law while ineligible to do so.
  9. LaShanda M. Robinson. The court disbarred the respondent for converting funds due to health care providers from personal injury case settlements. In so doing, the court rejected a board-recommended 3 year suspension, finding that the conversion of more than $22,000 and the failure to make restitution overcame otherwise significant mitigating factors. Justices Weimer and Johnson dissented, and would have imposed a 3 year suspension.
  10. Byrlyne June Van Dyke. The court disbarred the respondent for (1) a federal aggravated identity-theft conviction (for which we served 2 years in jail), and (2) multiple instances of taking fixed fees from clients, doing little or no work for them and failing to return the unearned portion of the fee. The respondent avoided permanent disbarment only because of the existence of several mitigating factors, including having a mental breakdown after the death of her parents.
  11. Jeananne Roy Self. The court suspended the respondent for two years (by consent), with one year deferred, for failing to promptly refund an unearned fee and commingling personal funds and client funds in her trust account.
  12. In re Appeal of Decision of the Disciplinary Board No. 13-PDB-058. The court remanded a confidential matter that was dismissed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel back to that office for “further investigation.” This is a rare case in which a complainant’s appeal from an ODC dismissal was successful.
  13. Guy J. D’Antonio. The court (by consent) transferred the respondent to disability inactive status.
  14. Michael T. Bell. The court (by consent) suspended the respondent for a year and a day with all but one year deferred for failing to communicate with his client, and violating Rule 1.16(d).
  15. Madison F. Mulkey. The court (by consent) suspended the respondent for two years for failing to repay money that he borrowed from a client and for making a false statement in connection with a judgment debtor examination.
  16. Danny Wayne Sylvester, Jr. The court rejected the petition for permanent resignation in lieu of discipline filed by the respondent for unstated reasons. Justice Victory concurred.

Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board

  1. George Randy Trelles. The LADB publicly reprimanded the respondent for making a false statement to the Department of Public Safety regarding the status of a pending DWI matter in an effort to obtain temporary driving privileges for his client. The board did not recommend suspension because it was unclear whether his conduct was knowing or negligent, and because he did not make the false statement to a “tribunal.”
  2. Mack Arthur Hollis. The LADB recommended that the respondent be suspended for a year and a day for (1) falsely notarizing a document, and (2) incompetently allowing a client’s claim to prescribe as a result of relying upon bad law that he downloaded from the Internet. The respondent’s actions during the disciplinary process were so odd that the Board recommended that he undergo a mental health evaluation as a condition of reinstatement.
  3. Kimuel Wayne Lee. The LADB sustained the respondent’s objection to a cost statement, and ordered a reduction in the amount of costs assessed against him by the amount of unproven misconduct. The respondent had been charged in three counts in the formal charges, but was exonerated on one of the counts. The Board held that “it would be equitable to reduce the litigation expenses by one-third.”
  4. Syad A. Salat. The LADB recommended that the applicant’s petition for readmission from disbarment be denied. The Board found that he failed to satisfy at least two prerequisites to readmission, including his failure to pay interest on restitution due to his former clients, and his failure to disclose his prior conviction “when required to do so.”
  5. James Ogden Middleton, II. The LADB ordered that the respondent be publicly reprimanded for (1) charging a client to fix an error made by an associate at the lawyer’s firm; and, (2) converting from an hourly fee arrangement to a contingent fee after the contingent event occurred. Most notable is that the Board adopted a recommendation of the hearing committee to dismiss 19 counts of alleged billing misconduct.
  6. Anthony Hollis. The Board recommended that the respondent be disbarred for misconduct in four matters. Among other misconduct, the respondent: failed to communicate with his clients, failed to return unearned fees, failed to communicate a plea offer to a client, practiced law while ineligible to do so, failed to perform work for which he was paid, and failed to cooperate with ODC in its investigations.
  7. David J. Mitchell. The Board recommended that the respondent be permanently disbarred for charging clients for travel expenses that were not incurred. The respondent argued that the committee’s findings and recommendation rested entirely on evidence that was erroneously admitted in violation of the Code of Evidence, specifically: (1) the rule against hearsay; (2) the original-writing rule; (3) the requirement of personal knowledge; and, (4) the rules regarding opinion testimony. In essence, the Board held that it was “not bound by the Code of Evidence.”
  8. Otha Curtis Nelson, Sr. The Board recommended that the respondent be suspended for a year and a day with all but six months deferred for negligently mishandling trust account funds and by charging excessive fees.
  9. W. Brent Pearson. The Board overruled the respondent’s objections to certain cost items assessed against him by the LADB for litigation and investigation.

Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board Hearing Committees

  1. Kevin Lenn Hanchey. Hearing Committee No. 52 recommended that the respondent be permanently disbarred for engaging in runner-based solicitation, conversion of client funds (in the amount of $18,540.60) and practicing law while ineligible to do so.
  2. Margrett Ford. Hearing Committee No. 17 recommended that the respondent, who is already disbarred, be adjudged guilty of additional misconduct, namely, neglecting legal matters, failing to communicate with clients, failing to return unearned legal fees, and failing to cooperate with ODC in its investigations.
  3. Philip Montelepre. Hearing Committee No. 8 recommended that the respondent be suspended for six months, fully deferred, for practicing law during a period of ineligibility due to his failure to satisfy MCLE requirements.
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