Was That Wrong? is a semi-regular column on Ethical Grounds. The column features stories of the absurd & outrageous from the world of legal ethics and attorney discipline. My aim is to highlight misconduct that I hope you’ll instinctively avoid without needing me to convene a continuing legal education seminar that cautions you to do so.
The column is inspired by the “Red Dot” episode of Seinfeld. In the episode, George Costanza has sex in his office with a character known only as “the cleaning woman.” His boss finds out. Here’s their ensuing exchange:
(Scene) In the boss’ office.
- Boss: I’m going to get right to the point. It has come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
- George: Who said that?
- Boss: She did.
- George: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, because I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.
- Boss: You’re fired.
- George: Well, you didn’t have to say it like that.
Now, on to today’s entry in the Was That Wrong? catalogue.
It came to my attention via this tweet in which a lawyer shared a news report that the Louisiana Supreme Court had disbarred an attorney:
The court’s opinion is here.
The misconduct is significant. Indeed, the court concluded that the lawyer “neglected his client’s legal matter, charged and collected an unreasonable fee, converted client funds held in his trust account, failed to return his client’s file upon request . . .”
I agree that it sounds bad. Alas, as regular readers know, so far, the misconduct doesn’t warrant a Was That Wrong? post. Let me complete the quote from the court’s opinion:
“. . . and engaged in deceptive and dishonest behavior in the course of his disciplinary proceeding.”
What type of deceptive and dishonest behavior?
First, when the client filed a disciplinary complaint, the lawyer asked for and received two extensions of the deadline to submit a response to disciplinary authorities. Then, the lawyer requested a third extension, stating that his response was on his laptop and that the laptop had been stolen when his truck was burglarized. He included what purported to be a copy of a “Voluntary Statement” that he claimed he’d given to the police. When disciplinary authorities followed-up, the police had no record of a vehicle burglary being reported on the date that the lawyer claimed to have reported it. In addition, an officer noted “several irregularities in the ‘Voluntary Statement’ submitted by [the lawyer], including the absence of a complaint number or a description of the vehicle in question.”
Next, the lawyer had represented the client in an insurance claim. A broken water line damaged the client’s home. The insurer sent payouts to the lawyer. In response to allegations that he’d misused the funds, the lawyer informed disciplinary authorities that the client had instructed him to hold the funds in trust and to pay contractors who repaired the house. The lawyer even submitted copies of what purported to be invoices and receipts. The contractors later testified that the invoices and receipts were fabricated.
Eventually, disciplinary authorities filed formal charges against the lawyer. Which, finally, brings us to the aspect of the story that convinced me to add it to the Was That Wrong? collection. Here’s how I envision the screen adaptation:
- Court: We’re going to get right to the point. It has come to our attention that you tried to avoid service of a disciplinary complaint by pretending to be your identical twin brother.
- Lawyer: Who said that?
- Court: The evidence.[i]
- Lawyer: Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon, you know, because I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.
- Court: Disbarred.
- Lawyer: Well, you didn’t have to say it like that.
As always, be careful out there.
[i] Here’s the relevant portion of the court’s opinion:
“On March 20, 2018, the ODC’s investigator, Robert Harrison, traveled to respondent’s law office in Lafayette to serve him with the subpoena. Respondent’s office is located in a building that he shares with his identical twin brother, Jade Andrus, who is also an attorney. Upon his arrival, Investigator Harrison encountered respondent in the parking lot. After introducing himself to respondent and giving him a business card, Investigator Harrison informed respondent he was there to serve him with a subpoena. In response, respondent stated that he was not Brad Andrus, but was Jade Andrus, Brad’s twin brother. Following his conversation with “Jade,” Investigator Harrison went inside the building and asked to see respondent. The receptionist informed Investigator Harrison that respondent had just left the office moments before.”
Prior Was That Wrong? Posts
- Conspiring with police to have your paralegal set up opposing counsel for a DUI mid-trial
- Bringing a gun to your disbarment hearing
- Sexting a Client
- Defrauding Investors, with Client Funds as Collateral
- Outrageous Falsehoods on a Resume
- Judge Orders Attorney Handcuffed to Jury Box
- Swearing at a Judge who Overrules Your Objection
- Forging Judges’ Signatures
- Representing Plaintiff & Defendant . . . and sleeping with Defendant
- Prosecutor Snoops on Conversations between Defendant & Defense Counsel
- Smuggling toothbrushes and pepper spray to an incarcerated client
- Framing a volunteer at your kid’s elementary school for drug possession
- Forging Wiretap Orders to Spy on a Romantic Rival
- Cannabis (In)Competence
- Inexplicable Incompetence and a Thomas Jefferson Costume
- Putting a convicted embezzler in charge of the trust account
- Diverting client funds to run a strip club
- Being shorted by drug dealers, then claiming they robbed you