IN RE: JAMES D. MECCA
disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the
Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against
respondent, James D. Mecca, an attorney licensed to practice
law in Louisiana.
2013, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office obtained
information that respondent was receiving drugs for payment
of his legal services. Specifically, a cooperating individual
(CI) contacted the Narcotics Division of the Sheriff's
Office on December 12, 2013 to advise that she had come into
contact with respondent while attending court earlier that
morning, and that respondent had offered his legal services
in exchange for marijuana. The CI reported that she had used
respondent in the past for legal counsel, and had paid him
with marijuana on three separate occasions over a period of
one year or more. On the most recent occasion, respondent
approached the CI and said he had heard the CI may need some
help again. The CI then asked respondent how much his
services would cost, or would it be the "same old, same
old." Respondent replied, "same old, same old,
" meaning that he would accept marijuana for his legal
services in place of currency.
officers then arranged for the CI to speak with respondent by
telephone concerning the details of the transaction. During a
recorded conversation about respondent's fee, the CI
advised respondent that he had "a crap load of smoke if
you want some of that" (meaning marijuana). Respondent
asked how much "stuff" the CI had, and the CI
responded, "A whole backpack full." Respondent
replied, "Oh, my God, " and readily agreed to
"collect payments from both accounts, " meaning
that he would accept the marijuana to offset the total
attorney's fees owed by CI.
officers then set up a controlled "exchange" which
occurred on December 20, 2013 in the parking lot of a retail
store in Covington. The marijuana provided to the CI by law
enforcement was approximately one-half pound in weight and
had an approximate street value of $2, 500. After departing the area with the
marijuana as well as marked cash provided to the CI by law
enforcement, respondent was stopped for a traffic violation
and arrested. He was booked with possession with intent to
distribute marijuana and failure to stop at a stop sign.
arrest and the law enforcement investigation were reported by
the New Orleans media on January 14, 2014. The following day,
respondent, through counsel, self-reported his arrest to the
ODC as well as his intent to cooperate with the Judges and
Lawyers Assistance Program ("JLAP"). Respondent was
subsequently admitted to the Palmetto Addiction Recovery
Center in Rayville, Louisiana. Following an evaluation,
respondent was diagnosed with alcohol and cannabis dependence
and unresolved grief and depression stemming from the death
of his father in 2011. Respondent then entered a ninety-day
inpatient treatment program at Palmetto and successfully
completed the program in April 2014. On May 2, 2014,
respondent executed a five-year recovery agreement with JLAP.
He has been fully compliant with the requirements of the
agreement since it was executed.
August 8, 2014, a bill of information was filed charging
respondent with possession of marijuana (first offense), a
misdemeanor. On the same day, respondent pleaded guilty to
the charge and was sentenced to serve six months in the
parish jail, suspended, and placed on probation for one year
under the supervision of JLAP. He was also required to pay a
$200 fine and court costs.
January 2015, the ODC filed one count of formal charges
against respondent, alleging that his conduct as set forth
above constituted a violation of Rule 8.4(b) of the Rules of
Professional Conduct. Respondent answered the formal charges
and admitted his criminal conviction. He also requested a
hearing in mitigation, which was conducted by the hearing
committee in July 2015.
considering the evidence and testimony presented at the
hearing, the hearing committee made the following factual
findings: Respondent practices primarily in the area of
criminal defense in St. Tammany and Washington Parishes.
Prior to becoming an attorney in 2002, he was employed in law
enforcement. He was arrested in St. Tammany Parish on
December 20, 2013 as the result of a "sting"
operation conducted by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriffs Office
("STSO"). A CI posed as a potential criminal client
who needed legal representation for her son. The CI informed
the STSO that she had "paid" respondent for
representation with marijuana in previous representations,
which respondent admitted. Respondent told the CI at that
time that if future legal services were required they could
work out the "same old same old, " meaning payment
of marijuana in lieu of or in addition to money.
December 16-17, 2013, the CI placed several phone calls to
respondent requesting legal representation of her son. The
parties discussed the matter and respondent proposed the sum
of $2, 500 to handle the case. The CI subsequently informed
respondent that she had a "crap load of smoke" and
a "backpack full of marijuana." Respondent then
mentioned the sum of $700 and that he would get back in touch
with the CI.
December 20, 2013, the parties made arrangements to meet in
the parking lot of a store in Covington. They met in a
vehicle and discussed a cash payment for legal services while
the police conducted surveillance. The CI asked respondent if
he would take $400 instead of $700 and respondent agreed,
then stated he would accept $300. Respondent then asked about
the "other thing. [T]hat's what I am most concerned
about, " according to the police report. The CI gave
respondent a backpack, which he examined and took with him.
He got into his car and left. Shortly thereafter, he was
pulled over by law enforcement in front of his law office and
arrested by STSO deputies for possession with intent to
testimony was largely identical to that of the STSO deputy
and the police report insofar as what led up to the arrest.
He testified that he did indeed make arrangements with the CI
to barter his legal services for marijuana and cash. However,
he disputed that he ever planned to distribute the marijuana
and stated that it was all for his own personal use. The
committee found this portion of respondent's testimony to
be credible and evidently ...