Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which imposed 3 year suspension on a lawyer who neglected a legal matter, failed to communicate with a client, charged an unreasonable fee, failed to refund unearned fees, converted client funds, made false statements to the ODC, shared legal fees with a non-lawyer, facilitated the unauthorized practice of law by a non-lawyer, shared fees with a corporation not licensed to practice law, and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation. The disciplinary opinion is In re: Stacy L. Morris, Case No. 14-B-1067 (La. SC 10/15/14) and is online here: https://www.ladb.org/DR/handler.document.aspx?DocID=8294
According to the opinion, the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) filed formal charges against the lawyer in in August 2011 arising out of four client matters. The lawyer answered and denied any misconduct. A formal hearing was held by a hearing committee in January and March 2012. In January 2012, the ODC filed a second set of formal charges against the lawyer, arising out of one client matter. The lawyer answered these formal charges but did not specifically deny, admit, or stipulate to any allegations of misconduct. A formal hearing on this matter was held by a hearing committee in May 2012.
The hearing committee made factual findings, which were modified by the disciplinary board. The factual findings were that the lawyer neglected a legal matter, failed to communicate with a client, charged an unreasonable fee, failed to refund unearned fees, converted client funds, made false statements to the ODC, shared legal fees with a non-lawyer, facilitated the unauthorized practice of law by a non-lawyer, shared fees with a corporation not licensed to practice law, and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
The disciplinary board recommended that the lawyer receive a suspension of one year and one day (which would require that the lawyer file a rehabilitative application and be reinstated). The ODC appealed and requested disbarment.
The opinion upheld the factual findings and discussed the egregiousness of the violations, including her conversion of $21,400.00 related to one client and $7,258.00 related to another client, as well as the fact that the lawyer had not paid any restitution to her clients. The opinion stated that, although disbarment was the presumed sanction for the conversion, the lawyer had significant mitigation, including the fact that she suffered from various illnesses during the time of her misconduct, that she worked primarily as a solo practitioner since 2001 without the benefit of professional mentoring relationships, and that she devoted a substantial portion of her practice to representations in the public interest in under-served areas of the community and suspended the lawyer for 3 years.
Bottom line: This lawyer was found to have engaged in conduct which violated numerous Louisiana Bar rules; however, the Court considered her significant mitigation and reduced the presumed sanction of disbarment to a 3 year suspension.
Let’s be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670