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Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board
Dear Louisiana Attorneys,
I am taking this opportunity to contact you to highlight the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. In the late 1980s, retired Chief Justice John A. Dixon characterized the bar as having an “ethics crisis.” 1 The disciplinary system was overburdened and complaints against lawyers were on the rise. In response to this crisis, in February 1990, the Louisiana Supreme Court adopted Supreme Court Rule XIX and established the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board (“LADB” or “Board”). The LADB became the first attorney disciplinary system in the nation to incorporate the American Bar Association’s 1989 Model Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (“ABA MRLDE”). The approval of the 1989 ABA MRLDE was the culmination of over twenty years of research and revision by various ABA committees.2 One of the most unique facets of the ABA MRLDE and Supreme Court Rule XIX in Louisiana was the involvement of members of the public in the recommendation of discipline against attorneys. The Louisiana Supreme Court is proud of the accomplishments made by the LADB over the past 25 years—namely, to protect the public and increase public confidence in the legal profession. Although as attorneys you are most certainly aware of the Board’s role in recommending discipline to the Court for ethical violations, I would like to highlight some of the Board’s other contributions to our profession: • • • •
the Board’s ambitious eﬀorts to bring a heightened awareness of ethical duties and obligations to law students by holding oral arguments and ethics presentations at the State’s four law schools on an annual basis; the Board’s educational outreach through free, live CLEs held annually throughout the State and its new low-cost, online CLE programs, including the “True Attorney” series (see the Board’s website, www.ladb.org, for more details); the Board’s updated website, including the new Attorney Status Search function which enables the public and members of the bar to obtain the non-confidential disciplinary history and status of any Louisiana attorney; and the Board's new e-newsletter, "Nota Bene," which will provide periodic updates on ethics, professionalism and Board developments.
I would like to thank the staﬀ of the LADB, the Oﬃce of Disciplinary Counsel, and the countless past and present volunteer members of the Board and its hearing committees for their commitment to the protection of the public and the improvement of the legal profession. The Court is excited to celebrate the LADB’s 25th anniversary, and looks forward to achieving new levels of success together in the next quarter century. Sincerely,
Bernette J. Johnson Chief Justice 1
Address by Chief Justice John A. Dixon, Press Conference (Feb. 6, 1990), cited in Reso, The New Louisiana Disciplinary Enforcement Rules v. The Old Rules: A Comparison, 36 Loy. L. Rev. 433 (1990). 2 Id. at 437.
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The Louisiana Disciplinary Board celebrates its 25th Anniversary by launching a new electronic newsletter, NOTA BENE, Latin for "note well." Each month, N.B. will feature ethics, professionalism and board developments. Look for it in your inbox next month!
Recent Cases & Developments MCLE CREDIT FOR PRO BONO SERVICE The Louisiana Supreme Court amended the Rules for Continuing Legal Education, specifically Rule XXX, Rule 3, Regulation 3.21, to grant MCLE credit for pro bono service, eﬀective May 1. Credit may also be earned through providing uncompensated pro bono legal representation to an indigent or near indigent client or clients. To be eligible for credit, the matter must have been assigned to the Member by a court, a bar association, or a legal services or pro bono organization that has as its primary purpose the furnishing of such pro bono legal services and that has filed a statement with the Louisiana Committee on MCLE. A Member providing such pro bono legal representation shall receive one (1) hour of CLE credit for each five (5) hours of pro bono representation, up to a maximum of three (3) hours of CLE credit for each calendar year. To receive credit, the Member shall submit MCLE Form 6 (“Application for CLE Credit for Pro Bono Services”).
NEW TRUST ACCOUNT RECONCILIATION REQUIREMENT Rule 1.15(f ) was amended to impose a requirement upon lawyers to reconcile their trust accounts on at least a quarterly basis. Reconciliation records must be maintained as mandated by the rule. This amendment became eﬀective April 1st.
In re Shields, 2014-B-2473 (2/27/15): The Court suspended the respondent for one year and one day for instructing a client to sign the respondent’s name on the attorney and notary lines of pleadings, failing to return a client file, failing to provide an accounting, failing to refund an unearned fee, and failing to cooperate with ODC in an investigation. In re Pittenger, 2015-OB-0191 (3/6/15): The Court readmitted the petitioner to the practice of law subject to a two-year period of probation. In 2009, petitioner and his law partner were disbarred for engaging in conflicts of interest, failing to supervise their non-lawyer staﬀ, engaging in impermissible fee-sharing with non-lawyers, and facilitating the unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyers, who were allowed to give legal advice to clients, negotiate settlements with insurance adjusters, and advise prospective clients regarding the execution of legal documents. In re Guirard & Pittenger, 08-2621 (La. 5/5/09), 11 So. 3d 1017. In re Burnham, 2014-OB-2716 (3/5/15): The Court denied the petitioner’s petition for readmission. The petitioner was disbarred by consent in 2003 based upon a criminal conviction. The conviction was the result of the petitioner’s participation in a fraudulent investment scheme. In re Burnham, 2003-B-2037 (La. 9/26/03), 856 So.2d 1186. Justice Knoll dissented in part, arguing that the petitioner should be permanently prohibited from being readmitted.
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LADB THROUGH THE YEARS
2009 Joseph R. Ward Jr., Richard E. Gerard, Jr., Lev M. Dawson and Dennis W. Hennen 1998 The late Orlando N. Hamilton, Jr., Donna Roberts, Clay Hamilton
1991 John Barrow, Donna Roberts
1997 front row: Judge Clare F. Jupiter, Lila Tritico Hogan, Donald R. Brown, E. J. Champagne, John J. Uhl, Burton E. Cestia, Jr., Homer Ed Barousse, Jr. back row: Orlando N. Hamilton, Jr. (Deceased), Thomas W. Sanders, Joseph L. Shea, Jr.
1998 Sibel S. Holt, Former Chief Justices Pascal F. Calogero, Jr. and Catherine D. Kimball
1996 Thomas Sanders, Charles Plattsmier, John Uhl, L. R. Brammer
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MEET THE BOARD The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board consists of 14 members who are appointed by the state Supreme Court, with one member designated as the Louisiana State Bar Association representative. The board is divided into two committees, a five-member Administrative Committee charged with operational functions, including the appointment of hearing committee members, and a nine-member Adjudicative Committee, which performs appellate review functions. The board membership includes lawyers and non-lawyer professionals from throughout Louisiana. R. Steven Tew has been a sole practitioner in Monroe, LA, since 1987. His areas of practice are personal injury and family law. He has been an assistant district attorney in the Fourth Judicial District for 22 years and currently handles asset forfeiture cases. Mr. Tew serves as the 2015 Disciplinary Board chairman and chairman of the Administrative Committee.
Jeffrey L. Little has had a personal injury and general civil practice in the Shreveport, LA, area for the past 28 years. Mr. Little served as a hearing committee member for the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board for 10 years before his appointment as a board member in 2015. Mr. Little currently serves as the LSBA representative on the board’s Administrative Committee.
Kim Leija worked with the Ouachita Parish Sheriﬀ ’s Oﬃce for a number of years and is currently employed as an independent political consultant. She was appointed as a public member of the board in 2009 and reappointed to serve a second three-year term in 2013. Ms. Leija serves as a member of the board’s Administrative Committee.
Carl A. Butler is the principal owner of Butler Law Firm, LLC, a minorityowned litigation and general services firm in Kenner, LA. He has been a practicing attorney for nearly 30 years, concentrating in the areas of civil and commercial litigation, workers’ compensation defense and debt collections. Mr. Butler was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to his first term on the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board in 2011 and currently serves as vice-chairman of the board and chairman of its Adjudicative Committee.
Stephen F. Chiccarelli is a Baton Rouge lawyer with the firm of Baker Donelson and is a Board Certified Creditors’ Rights Specialist certified by the American Board of Specialization. Mr. Chiccarelli served as chairman of a hearing committee for five years before being appointed to the board in 2009, where he serves as a member of the Administrative Committee. Tara L. Mason is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology and received her Juris Doctorate from LSU in 1996. Ms. Mason was appointed to the board in 2011 and currently serves on the Administrative Committee. Ms. Mason was reappointed in 2015 to serve a second three-year term.
Dominick Scandurro, Jr. has been a practicing attorney for the past 48 years; he currently practices commercial and personal injury law with his three sons at the firm of Scandurro & Layrisson, LLC in New Orleans and Belle Chasse. Mr. Scandurro also served as a hearing committee member for more than 10 years before his appointment as a board member. Mr. Scandurro currently serves as a lawyer member on a panel of the Adjudicative Committee. Col. Evans C. Spiceland, Jr. (Ret.) retired from the U.S. Regular Army in 1998 after serving 30 years on active duty. He is a Distinguished Military Graduate of the University of Alabama. Col. Spiceland served as a hearing committee member from 2004 to 2009 before his
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appointment to the board in January 2015. Col. Spiceland currently serves as the public member on a panel of the Adjudicative Committee. Edwin G. Preis, Jr. is the managing partner and founder of Preis PLC, a regional defense law firm with offices in Lafayette, New Orleans and Houston. Mr. Preis served as chairman of a hearing committee for eight years before his appointment to the board in 2009. Mr. Preis served as the 2014 chairman of the Disciplinary Board and currently serves as chairman of an Adjudicative Panel. Walter D. White practices commercial litigation, collections law, estate planning and elder law in Shreveport, LA. Mr. White also served as a hearing committee member and chairman for nine years before his appointment to the board in 2015. Mr. White currently serves as the lawyer member on a panel of the Adjudicative Committee. George L. Crain was appointed to the Disciplinary Board in 2008 and currently serves as a public member on the board's Adjudicative Committee. Mr. Crain is a member of the board and consultant to WHC, Inc., a pipeline contractor in Lafayette, LA. Mr. Crain is presently serving his second three-year term on the board.
Charles B. Plattsmier, Chief Disciplinary Counsel, is an LSU graduate and former hearing committee member. He formerly practiced maritime litigation with the firm of Hunter and Plattsmier in Morgan City, LA. The Louisiana Supreme Court appointed him Chief Disciplinary Counsel in 1996 and he is the longest-serving Chief Counsel. Mr. Plattsmier has authored amendments to both the Rules of Professional Conduct as well as Supreme Court Rule 19; was a member of the Ethics 2000 Committee which updated and amended Louisiana's ethics rules; and has served on countless committees of both the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Louisiana State Bar Association. He was a 2002 nominee for the ABA Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award for outstanding contributions to the
Anderson O. Dotson, III is a native of Monroe, LA, and received a B.S. from LSU in 1996. He went on to receive his Juris Doctorate, magna cum laude, from the Southern University Law Center in 2000. Mr. Dotson, who was associated with the law firm of Phelps Dunbar, LLP from 2000 to 2009, is currently Acting City Prosecutor for Baton Rouge and maintains a private practice with the Dotson Firm, LLC. Mr. Dotson served as a hearing committee member for six years before his appointment to the board in 2015. Mr. Dotson currently serves as the chair of an Adjudicative Panel. Carrie LeBlanc Jones is an associate attorney at Shows, Cali & Walsh, LLP in Baton Rouge, practicing general civil litigation and administrative law. Ms. Jones was appointed to the board in January 2014 and currently serves as the lawyer member on an Adjudicative Panel. Ms. Jones is serving her first three-year term. R. Lewis Smith received a Masters of Business Administration from LSU Shreveport in 1983 and is a Certified Public Accountant and partner with Smith & Company, LLC and Accounting Systems Consulting Group, LLC. Mr. Smith is also a financial advisor with Rose, Whetstone & Smith. He has served as the public member on an Adjudicative Panel since his appointment in January 2011.
field of professional responsibility. In 2009, he was the recipient of the ABA CoLap Meritorious Service Award. Donna L. Roberts has served as Board Administrator for 24 years. She has more than 40 years of nonprofit management experience in areas such as member services, educational training and digital systems. She developed free CLE seminars for the Louisiana bar membership and most recently implemented online CLEs utilizing innovative and creative formats. She oversaw the transfer of the Disciplinary Board and Disciplinary Counsel oďŹƒces to a paperless environment. Donna is a native of New Orleans and a Tulane University alumna.
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AVOIDING CLIENT COMPLAINTS The Oﬃce of Disciplinary Counsel receives approximately 3,000 to 3,200 complaints each year. About a third of these are screened out and never opened for investigation. Approximately 400 complaints per year are referred to the Louisiana State Bar Association’s (LSBA) Practice Assistance Program and/or the diversion program. Complaints referred to these programs often include: fee disputes, which may be referred to the bar association’s fee arbitration program, and “return of client’s file” issues, or complaints where minor unintentional misconduct occurred. Complaints that allege the lawyer’s “lack of professionalism” and do not rise to level of a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct (including the use of profanity) are likewise sent to the LSBA as a “relational referral,” which may provide an opportunity for the lawyer to mediate an apology or similar “relational” eﬀort. Should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a complaint, keep a cool head and perspective.
A disciplinary complaint is just that—a complaint. It is not proof of guilt but rather just a set of allegations. You should review and investigate the complaint closely and then consider whether it’s in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you in the disciplinary proceedings. As with any legal complaint, be mindful of deadlines. Responses are due within 15 days; although extensions may be granted by the Oﬃce of Disciplinary Counsel. Refer to the LADB’s brochure, “Upholding Standards of Professional Conduct,” for information about navigating the disciplinary process, available at ladb.org in the publications section.
OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS, THE MOST FREQUENT COMPLAINTS AGAINST ATTORNEYS HAVE BEEN: 15,137 Neglect 8,196
14,578 Lack of communication Misrepresentation/dishonesty
7,711 Fee dispute/excessive fee 5,548 Scope of representation 5,295 Failure to account 3,226 Return of file 3,067 Ineffective assistance of counsel 2,623 Conflict of interest 2,115 Commingling
77,662 complaints opened
2,798 sanctions imposed
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Over 100 lawyers and non-lawyers participated in a two-day training session to prepare for their role as hearing committee members.
INTERESTED IN SERVING AS A HEARING COMMITTEE MEMBER? Attorneys and non-lawyer members of the public may serve on hearing committees for three-year terms, as appointed by the Administrative Committee of the board. The Louisiana Supreme Court tasks committee members with many duties, including conducting hearings into formal charges of misconduct. Rule XIX, Section 3(D).
TIPS FOR AVOIDING COMPLAINTS • • • • • • • • • • •
Take the time to set reasonable client expectations. Explain to the client that “television lawyers” do not reflect reality. Accept representation only in areas of your competence. Get your fee agreement in writing. Avoid business relationships with your clients. No one is permitted to sign your trust account checks but you. While a lawyer may “cause” the trust account to be reconciled, the lawyer is ultimately responsible for having it done properly. Be clear as to who the “client” is. Return the client’s file promptly upon request. Have a “healthy respect” for your opposing counsel. Never, never, never lie to or mislead a judge.
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Upcoming Continuing Legal Education Free CLE Credits! Our next free CLE oﬀering will be on May 27th at the Crowne Plaza Executive Center in Baton Rouge. Online registration is now open and seating is limited! Credits are oﬀered for ethics, professionalism, law oﬃce practice and general credit. • Baton Rouge - Wednesday, May 27 • Kenner - Wednesday, June 17
The TRUE ATTORNEY series uses drama to teach legal ethics in an entertaining way.
• Lafayette - Wednesday, July 22 • Alexandria - Wednesday, Sept. 30
Visit ladb.org for more information about our online CLEs.
Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board 2800 Veterans Memorial Blvd, Suite 310 Metairie, LA 70002
"The Disciplinary Board appears to be one of the few, if the only group oﬀering continuing legal education through online webisodes." -The Advocate December 14, 2014