For Applicant: Charles Bennett Plattsmier, G. Fred Ours, OFFICE OF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL.
CRICHTON, J., concurs in part and dissents in part.
[2014-2544 La. 1] ATTORNEY
This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (" ODC" ) against respondent, ReJohnna Brown-Mitchell, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, but currently ineligible to practice.
The McDonald Matter
Triscelyn McDonald retained respondent to represent her in obtaining a divorce, securing child support, and assist in forestalling the loss of the couple's home and vehicles to creditors. On January 28, 2008, the judge ordered Ms. McDonald's husband, Peyton McDonald, to pay $20,000 to Omni Bank to avoid foreclosure on the community home and vehicles. Mr. McDonald did not make that payment. However, on April 21, 2008, he appeared in court and paid $7,000 in cash to respondent. The judge directed respondent to place the $7,000 in her client trust account and to immediately turn the funds over to Omni Bank the next day.
On April 22, 2008, Mr. McDonald filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and an automatic stay was issued. The next day, Ms. McDonald, through respondent, moved to have the $7,000 applied to Mr. McDonald's past due child support [2014-2544 La. 2] obligation. The judge denied the motion and ordered respondent to forward the $7,000 to the Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee. Respondent did not do so.
On May 8, 2008, in open court, the judge again ordered respondent to forward the $7,000 to the Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee. Respondent did not do so.
On May 23, 2008, in written reasons for judgment, the judge again ordered respondent to immediately forward the $7,000 to the Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustee. Respondent did not do so.
In a written judgment signed June 13, 2008, the judge ordered respondent to deposit the $7,000 into the registry of the court. Respondent did not do so.
Mr. McDonald's bankruptcy petition was dismissed on July 14, 2008. That same day, respondent sent Ms. McDonald a letter
regarding the $7,000, stating that " within 30 days of this letter I will proceed to seize these funds in my possession for the payment of Attorney fees and expenses." On August 18, 2008, respondent withdrew the $7,000 from her trust account for her own use.
The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.7(a)(2) (conflict of interest: current clients), 1.15(d) (failure to timely remit funds to a client or third person), 3.4(c) (knowing disobedience of an obligation under the rules of a tribunal), 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation), and 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
The White Matter
Deborah White hired respondent in a property transfer matter involving property located at 323 & 325 Pacific Avenue in Algiers (hereinafter referred to as [2014-2544 La. 3] the " Algiers double" ). Respondent prepared, notarized, and recorded an act of donation, executed on March 14, 2005, whereby Velma Price, Ms. White's stepdaughter, donated her interest in the Algiers double to Ms. White.
Ms. White was living and working in another part of the New Orleans area and could not afford to pay for the necessary repairs to the Algiers double. As such, Ms. White and respondent entered into a business arrangement whereby respondent would live in one half of the property and rent out the other half to pay for the repairs. Respondent did not advise Ms. White in writing to obtain independent legal counsel before entering into the business arrangement, nor did respondent obtain any written informed consent from Ms. White.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Ms. White moved to Texas. In early 2007, respondent advised Ms. White that respondent could get an SBA loan to complete the renovations on the Algiers double. Respondent also advised Ms. White that, in order for the SBA loan to be approved, Ms. White would need to sign a quitclaim deed to temporarily transfer title to respondent. Respondent prepared the quitclaim deed transferring Ms. White's interest in the Algiers double to respondent. The quitclaim deed was signed and notarized on February 12, 2007. Respondent did not advise Ms. White in writing to obtain independent legal counsel before transferring the property, nor did respondent obtain any written informed consent from Ms. White. Respondent has refused to return Ms. White's interest in the Algiers double after obtaining same by making misrepresentations and without compensating Ms. White.
The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), 1.7(a)(2), 1.8(a) (a lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security, or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client), and 8.4(c).
[2014-2544 La. 4] The Phillips Matter
Tania Phillips hired respondent to represent her in an insurance coverage dispute against State Farm Insurance Company. Ms. Phillips paid respondent a $1,500 advanced fee. In early 2011, Ms. Phillips became dissatisfied with respondent's representation and obtained a new attorney, Ginger DeForest. Ms. DeForest made attempts to obtain from respondent an accounting of the earned portion of the
$1,500 fee, a refund of the unearned portion, and Ms. Phillips' file. Her attempts were unsuccessful.
In late July 2011, Ms. DeForest had a subpoena duces tecum issued in Ms. Phillips' case, which subpoena required respondent to produce Ms. Phillips' file. Respondent still failed to produce the file. In late September 2011, Ms. DeForest filed a motion to hold respondent in contempt of court. Respondent avoided being served with the motion and still failed to produce Ms. Phillips' file.
Between September 9, 2011 and March 22, 2012, respondent was ineligible to practice law for failing to pay her bar dues and the disciplinary assessment and failing to file her registration statement and her trust account disclosure statement. Since June 1, 2012, respondent has been ineligible to practice law for failing to comply with mandatory continuing legal education (" MCLE" ) requirements.
In October 2011, State Farm's attorney, Harry Terhoeve, filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent to report the filing of the motion for contempt against her. In March 2012, respondent responded to the complaint but did not address the substance or merits of the complaint. Respondent also failed to appear for a scheduled sworn statement regarding the complaint in March 2012.
[2014-2544 La. 5] The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.1(b) (failure to comply with MCLE requirements), 1.1(c) (failure to pay bar dues and the disciplinary assessment), 1.5(f)(5) (failure to refund an unearned fee), 1.16(d) (obligations upon termination of the representation), 3.4(a) (unlawful obstruction of another party's access to evidence), 3.4(c), 8.1(b) (knowing failure to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority), 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation), and 8.4(d). The ODC also alleged that respondent's conduct violated Supreme Court Rule XIX, § 8(A) (every lawyer admitted to practice before the court shall pay to the attorney disciplinary board an annual fee to be ...