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In re Murphy

Supreme Court of Louisiana

June 29, 2017

IN RE: HEATHER M. MURPHY

          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Heather M. Murphy, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana but currently on interim suspension for threat of harm to the public. In re: Murphy, 13-2947 (La. 12/27/13), 131 So.3d 34.

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         Count I - The Chouest Matter

         In August 2012, respondent began working for attorney Stephen M. Chouest. Four months later, Mr. Chouest terminated respondent's employment. Shortly thereafter, respondent contacted Mr. Chouest about some prospective clients who needed representation. Mr. Chouest received a copy of an e-mail that respondent sent to the prospective clients, in which she identified herself as an attorney with Mr. Chouest's law firm but provided her own cell phone number as the contact number. Mr. Chouest informed respondent that she would not be allowed to misrepresent herself as his current employee.

         Later, respondent visited Mr. Chouest's office to deliver the prospective clients' files. However, she refused to deliver the files unless Mr. Chouest rehired her. He refused, but he was ultimately able to undertake the representation of the clients with their full authorization and consent.

         Thereafter, respondent attempted to persuade the clients to terminate Mr. Chouest's representation and hire her to represent them. To entice them, respondent offered the clients gift cards and basketball tickets. Respondent's husband also attempted to contact the clients to entice them to hire respondent and left several angry voicemail messages for the clients.

         In January 2013, Mr. Chouest filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent. As part of the ODC's investigation of the complaint, the ODC's staff investigator interviewed LaTonya LaGarde, one of the clients. Ms. LaGarde confirmed that respondent misrepresented the status of her employment with Mr. Chouest. She also confirmed that respondent offered her family basketball tickets to entice them to terminate Mr. Chouest's representation and, instead, hire her. She further confirmed that respondent's husband left angry messages on her voicemail. As part of the ODC's investigation, the ODC also served respondent with a subpoena to obtain her sworn statement. Despite being served with the subpoena, respondent failed to appear for the sworn statement.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 4.1 (truthfulness in statements to others), 4.2 (communication with persons represented by counsel), 7.4 (direct contact with prospective clients), 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation), 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct), and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

         Count II - The Cheramie Matter

         Between January 2013 and July 2013, Debra Cheramie paid respondent a total of $3, 700 to handle her parents' successions. Respondent did not deposit the checks into a trust account because she did not maintain such an account. On her trust account disclosure statement, respondent indicated she does not maintain a trust account because she does not handle client funds.

         Via an August 8, 2013 letter, Ms. Cheramie terminated respondent's services and demanded an accounting and refund of any unearned fees. Respondent did not provide either. Ms. Cheramie also demanded that respondent turn the files over to her new attorney, Steven Koehler. Although respondent met with Mr. Koehler on September 6, 2013, she failed to produce the files.

         During the representation, respondent sent Ms. Cheramie e-mails indicating she had filed the succession pleadings with the court. However, when Mr. Koehler checked with the clerk of court, he learned nothing had been filed for either succession. When Mr. Koehler confronted respondent about this, she indicated she had "fax-filed" the succession pleadings. Mr. Koehler asked respondent to produce the confirmation return fax from the clerk of court, but she failed to do so.

         In September 2013, Ms. Cheramie and Mr. Koehler filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent. Despite receiving notice of the complaint, respondent failed to file a written response or otherwise cooperate with the ODC's investigation.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.2 (scope of the representation), 1.3 (failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client), 1.5(f)(5) (failure to refund an unearned fee), 1.16(d) (obligations upon termination of the representation), 8.1(c), and 8.4(c).

         Count III - The Horn Matter

         In July 2013, Charles Horn paid respondent a $300 flat fee to defend him in traffic court. Respondent appeared at the arraignment and was notified of the September 16, 2013 trial date. Respondent did not notify Mr. Horn of the trial date and did not appear at the trial on his behalf. As a result, a bench warrant was issued for Mr. Horn's failure to appear.

         In October 2013, Mr. Horn filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent. Despite receiving notice of the complaint, respondent failed to submit a written response, necessitating the issuance of a subpoena to obtain her sworn statement. Despite being served with the subpoena, respondent failed to appear for the sworn statement and, thereafter, failed to cooperate with the ODC's investigation. As part of the ODC's investigation, the ODC's staff investigator interviewed Mr. Horn, who indicated he obtained the services of another attorney to have the bench warrant recalled. He also indicated that the other attorney advised him respondent had been interimly suspended from the practice of law in December 2013.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.3, 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), 1.5(f)(5), 8.1(c), and 8.4(c).

         Count IV - The Criminal Matter

         On October 21, 2010, respondent was arrested on charges of obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud and deceit and altering a prescription. Respondent was allowed to resolve the charges through participation in a pre-trial diversion program, which she completed in October 2011. However, she failed to notify the ODC of her arrest or the disposition of the criminal charges against her.

         In November 2013, respondent's former employer filed a disciplinary complaint, notifying the ODC of respondent's arrest. Despite receiving notice of the complaint, respondent failed to submit a written ...


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