The Louisiana Supreme Court suspended New Orleans lawyer Donald R. Pryor for a year and a day for attempting to buy off a witness. See In re Pryor, No. 2015-B-0243 (La. Sep. 1, 2015). Pryor offered a witness in a criminal case $300 if the witness would execute an affidavit requesting dismissal of burglary charges then pending against Pryor’s client. When the witness refused to drop the charges, Pryor then offered him $500 “not to show up in court” for trial. Although Pryor claimed that the payment was offered as “restitution” for the victim’s stolen property, the court did not buy it:
Although respondent sought to characterize the payment as restitution for Mr. Bode’s stolen gun, respondent admitted he would not give Mr. Bode the money until Mr. Bode executed the affidavit dismissing the charges against Ms. Winborn. This testimony clearly supports the conclusion that any intent to provide restitution was incidental, as respondent’s overarching purpose in offering the money was to have Mr. Bode execute an affidavit dropping the charges.
This conduct, the court found, violated Louisiana Rule 8.4 because it was prejudicial to the administration of justice and dishonest.
There is nothing wrong with seeking to have a crime victim drop charges, or even offering to pay restitution. However, a lawyer who seeks to do so must be “aware that his actions could be interpreted as bribery or intimidation and take sufficient safeguards to avoid such an impression.” Id. Such safeguards might include having “an unbiased witness present during any discussions between the lawyer and victim,” or perhaps, recording any such encounter.