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In re Mecca

Supreme Court of Louisiana

January 20, 2017



          PER CURIAM. [*]

         This 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.


         In late 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.

         Narcotics 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.

         Narcotics 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.[1] 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.

         Respondent's 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.

         On 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.


         In 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.

         Hearing Committee Report

         After 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.

         On 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.

         On 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 distribute.

         Respondent's 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 ...

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