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In re Fuerst

Supreme Court of Louisiana

December 9, 2014

IN RE: RANDY J. FUERST

For Applicant: Charles Bennett Plattsmier, G. Fred Ours, OFFICE OF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL.

For Respondent: Randy J. Fuerst, FUERST & GODLEY, ATTORNEYS AT LAW; James Edgar Boren, THE LAW OFFICES OF JAMES E. BOREN; Shane Keith Hinch, VAMVORAS, SCHWARTZBERG & HINCH, LLC.

KNOLL, J., concurs and assigns reasons. WEIMER, J., concurs.

OPINION

Page 570

[14-0647 La. 1] PER CURIAM

This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary

Page 571

Counsel (" ODC" ) against respondent, Randy J. Fuerst, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana.

UNDERLYING FACTS

At all times relevant to this proceeding, respondent has maintained a law office in Lake Charles, where his practice is almost exclusively confined to family law matters. Beginning in 1998, after he and his wife were divorced, and continuing through 2010, respondent was involved in consensual sexual relationships with six women who had at one time either retained his services or consulted with him regarding their divorce cases. With one exception, these sexual relationships did not occur while the attorney-client relationship was ongoing. We have briefly summarized these relationships below, referring to the women involved only by their initials to protect their privacy.

CCL consulted with respondent regarding her divorce in February 1998, but she did not retain him to represent her. Another lawyer filed a petition for divorce on behalf of CCL in March 1998. In April 1998, CCL and respondent began dating. Their relationship became sexually intimate, and continued until April 1999, when it ended amicably.

[14-0647 La. 2] VADL retained respondent to represent her in her divorce. The parties were divorced in August 2001 and the case was concluded in January 2002 when the community property settlement was finalized. In the spring of 2002, VADL initiated a social relationship with respondent which became sexually intimate. In July 2002, the lawyer for VADL's ex-husband requested that respondent execute an act of correction to correct an error in the listing of a vehicle identification number that had been included in the community property settlement. Respondent signed the act of correction while his relationship with VADL was ongoing. Respondent's relationship with VADL ended amicably in February 2003.

MRW retained respondent to represent her in her divorce. In December 2001, respondent filed a petition for divorce on behalf of MRW pursuant to La. Civ. Code art. 102. During the six-month waiting period to file the rule to show cause why the divorce should not be granted, respondent and MRW engaged in a sexual relationship. Respondent has acknowledged that his conduct with MRW constituted a conflict of interest in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

MLDG retained respondent to represent her in her divorce. Respondent filed a petition for divorce on behalf of MLDG in May 2004. Shortly thereafter, MLDG told respondent that she wanted to pursue a dating relationship, but respondent said he could not date a client. MLDG then terminated respondent's representation. In June 2004, respondent filed a motion to withdraw from MLDG's case, and a lawyer from the law firm with which respondent was then associated as " Of Counsel" enrolled on behalf of MLDG. Shortly thereafter, respondent and MLDG began a sexual relationship which lasted until 2007, when it ended amicably.

BDW retained respondent to represent her in her divorce. Respondent filed a petition for divorce on behalf of BDW in September 2006. In October 2006, BDW and her husband reconciled, and respondent withdrew from the [14-0647 La. 3] representation. In November 2007, BDW and her husband separated again. BDW consulted with respondent regarding her divorce at that time, but she did not retain him to represent her. In January 2008, respondent and BDW began a sexual relationship which lasted a couple of weeks but ended amicably thereafter.

Page 572

BMP retained respondent to represent her in her divorce. Respondent filed a petition for divorce on behalf of BMP in May 2008. On June 10, 2008, BMP telephoned respondent to report that she thought she was being followed, and asked whether she could come to his home. Respondent agreed. Shortly after BMP arrived, BMP's husband was seen outside the house taking photographs. Respondent then escorted BMP to her car, and she left. The following day, June 11, 2008, respondent met with BMP and her parents and told them he was withdrawing from the representation. Respondent likewise informed the lawyer for BMP's husband that he would no longer be involved in the case. BMP retained new counsel to represent her, and a formal motion to substitute counsel was signed on June 16, 2008. On June 21, 2008, respondent and BMP commenced a sexual relationship during a trip to Houston together. The relationship between respondent and BMP lasted for approximately two and half years, until late 2010, when it ended amicably.

In addition to the relationships described above, the ODC presented the claims of two women who either retained respondent's services or consulted with him in their divorce cases but who were not involved in sexual relationships with him.

KGH retained respondent to represent her in her divorce. Respondent represented KGH between August 2001 and June 2002, during which time she claims that he asked her out to dinner and then hugged her goodbye and attempted to kiss her. Although respondent admitted that he hugged KGH goodbye upon their departure from a dinner meeting, he denied that he attempted to kiss her.

[14-0647 La. 4] SKS consulted with respondent regarding her divorce in 2007, but she did not retain him to represent her. SKS claims that respondent made inappropriate comments to her during the initial consultation. Respondent denied doing so.

DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

BMP's ex-husband filed a complaint against respondent with the ODC in October 2008. In June 2012, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that his relationships violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.7(a)(2) (a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest wherein there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client, a former client or third person, or by a personal interest of the lawyer), 1.8(b) (a lawyer shall not use information relating to the representation of a client to the disadvantage of the client unless the client gives informed consent), 1.10 (imputation of conflicts of interest), 2.1 (in representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice), and 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

Formal Hearing

After respondent answered the formal charges, the matter proceeded to a formal hearing on the merits. The hearing committee conducted the hearing over the course of four days in January 2013. Both respondent and the ODC introduced documentary evidence and called numerous witnesses to testify before the committee. Respondent also testified on his own behalf and on cross-examination by the ODC.

[14-0647 La. 5] The ODC's witnesses included the following: BMP's ex-husband; attorney John Green, Jr. (attorney for BMP's ex-husband); Buddy Stockwell, the Executive Director of the Lawyers Assistance Program (" LAP" ); BMP's mother; BMP; CCL;

Page 573

MRW; BDW's ex-husband; BDW; MLDG; VADL's ex-boyfriend; ...


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