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In re Meisner - 2008-2351 ( La. 05/15/09), 11 So. 3d 1096

Rule:

In determining a sanction, the Supreme Court of Louisiana is mindful that disciplinary proceedings are designed to maintain high standards of conduct, protect the public, preserve the integrity of the profession, and deter future misconduct. The discipline to be imposed depends upon the facts of each case and the seriousness of the offenses involved considered in light of any aggravating and mitigating circumstances. 

Facts:

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) filed two sets of formal charges against an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, consisting of a total of five counts of misconduct. The ODC alleged in the first count of the complaint that respondent's conduct violated Rules 1.3 (failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client), 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), and 1.15 (safekeeping property of clients or third persons) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Respondent had received a settlement check  for a client in the amount of $ 7,579.20, which he deposited into the firm's operating account. Respondent subsequently stipulated to a violation of Rules 1.3 and 1.4, however, he maintained that he did not violate Rule 1.15 because he did not know of, authorize, or approve the transfer of settlement funds from his law firm's (Milling Benson) client trust account to the firm's operating account in a matter involving the Castjohn clients. In the second count, respondent allegedly violated Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional Conduct in handling settlement funds in a personal injury action with regard to a lender's assignment agreement with respondent's clients. In the third count, the ODC alleged that respondent violated Rule 1.15 based on a transfer of settlement funds from the Milling Benson client trust account to the firm's operating account, and failed to properly pay his client's medical bills. The hearing committee found in the third count that respondent violated Rule 1.3 in the delay in responding to the client's medical provider. The hearing committee did not find violations of Rule 1.15 by clear and convincing evidence.

Issue:

Was the attorney subject to disciplinary action?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

Upon review of the findings and recommendations of the hearing committees and the disciplinary board, and considering the record, briefs, and oral argument, the Supreme Court of Louisiana ordered that the attorney be suspended from the practice of law for three years. The court found that the baseline sanction was suspension. It further ordered deferral of two years of the suspension. Following completion of the active portion of his suspension, respondent would be placed on supervised probation for two years, subject to the condition that any misconduct during this period may be grounds for making the deferred portion of the suspension executory, or imposing additional discipline, as appropriate. The court ordered the probationary period to start from the date respondent, the ODC, and the probation monitor executed a formal probation plan. In Counts I and III, the attorney violated duties owed to his clients and a third party, the medical provider, by failing to timely communicate with them and promptly transmitting settlement funds as he was obliged to do. The hearing committee found aggravating factors including multiple offenses, a pattern of misconduct, and substantial experience in the practice of law.

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