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In re Fahrenholtz

Supreme Court of Louisiana

April 7, 2017

IN RE: JAMES LOUIS FAHRENHOLTZ

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, James Louis Fahrenholtz, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, [1] but currently suspended from practice.

         PRIOR DISCIPLINARY HISTORY

         Before we address the current charges, we find it helpful to review respondent's prior disciplinary history. Respondent was admitted to the practice of law in Louisiana in 1996.

         In 2009, we considered a disciplinary proceeding involving two sets of formal charges against respondent. In the first matter, respondent had been declared ineligible to practice law in 2005 for failure to pay his bar dues and the disciplinary assessment and separately for failure to comply with the mandatory continuing legal education requirements. In the second matter, he failed to cooperate with the ODC in two disciplinary investigations. Respondent failed to file an answer to the formal charges, and as a result, the factual allegations thereof were deemed admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence. After reviewing the record, we concluded that respondent's misconduct was "particularly troublesome, " principally his failure to cooperate, which was noted to be "more egregious than the typical failure to cooperate case." Accordingly, we suspended respondent from the practice of law for one year and one day, necessitating a formal application for reinstatement. In re: Fahrenholtz, 09-0748 (La. 10/2/09), 18 So.3d 751 ("Fahrenholtz I").

         Respondent has not yet sought reinstatement from his suspension in Fahrenholtz I. As such, he remains suspended from the practice of law. Against this backdrop, we now turn to a consideration of the misconduct at issue in the instant proceeding.

         FORMAL CHARGES

         In April 2015, a lobbyist working at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge reported that his briefcase and Apple iPad, keyboard, and case were stolen from the Capitol building. The Louisiana State Police initiated an investigation into the matter and traced an electronic signal from the iPad to respondent's home in New Orleans. Upon being questioned by law enforcement officers, respondent initially denied any knowledge of the theft; however, officers saw the stolen briefcase in plain view in respondent's kitchen. Officers then obtained a search warrant and discovered the iPad, keyboard, and case in a pond at the rear of respondent's property, where he had thrown them in an effort to hide and destroy evidence. Respondent was arrested and charged in Orleans Parish with illegal possession of stolen things and obstruction of justice. He was also charged in East Baton Rouge Parish with felony theft. In July 2015, respondent resolved the criminal charges by entering into a pretrial diversion program which permitted him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegal possession of stolen things. He was also required to pay restitution in the amount of $800 to the victim.

         In May 2015, the ODC opened a disciplinary investigation in this matter. Notice of the investigation was sent to respondent by certified mail at his bar registration address pursuant to the requirements of Supreme Court Rule XIX, but respondent did not claim the certified mail. An ODC investigator then delivered a copy of the notice of the investigation to respondent in person. Despite receipt of this notice, respondent failed to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In November 2015, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that his conduct as set forth above violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation), 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct), 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

         The board administrator forwarded respondent notice of the filing of the formal charges at his bar registration address via certified mail. Once again, however, respondent did not claim the certified mail, and an ODC investigator attempted to make personal service of the formal charges on respondent at his home. Nevertheless, respondent failed to answer the formal charges. Accordingly, the factual allegations contained therein were deemed admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence pursuant to Supreme Court Rule XIX, § 11(E)(3). No formal hearing was held, but the parties were given an opportunity to file with the hearing committee written arguments and documentary evidence on the issue of sanctions. Respondent filed nothing for the hearing committee's consideration.

         Hearing Committee Report

         After considering the ODC's deemed admitted submission, the hearing committee found that respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as charged. He violated duties owed to the public and the legal system by committing theft and obstructing justice. By his repeated failures to respond, participate, or cooperate in any phase of the disciplinary investigation or this proceeding, he has violated duties owed to the profession and the legal system. His conduct was clearly intentional. Respondent caused substantial harm to the victim of ...


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