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In re Johnson

Supreme Court of Louisiana

September 6, 2017



          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Alvin A. Johnson, Jr., an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana.


         The ODC filed two sets of formal charges against respondent under disciplinary board docket numbers 15-DB-032 and 16-DB-061. Respondent did not answer the first set of formal charges, and the factual allegations contained therein were deemed admitted. Thereafter, respondent admitted to the allegations of misconduct in a written submission to the disciplinary board. Respondent answered the second set of formal charges, admitting to the allegation of misconduct. The matters were considered by separate hearing committees before being consolidated by order of the disciplinary board. The board then filed in this court a single recommendation of discipline encompassing both sets of formal charges.


         By way of background, Deveallion Dean was incarcerated on November 5, 2011 when his father passed away. Mr. Dean was a beneficiary of at least one of his father's insurance policies. Mr. Dean's sister, Denise Jackson, received a $2, 004 disbursement from the policy made payable to Mr. Dean.

         In June 2012, Ms. Jackson hired respondent at the rate of $200 per hour to ensure that Mr. Dean received the funds designated for him. At that time, she paid respondent $200. Respondent visited Mr. Dean in prison, and they agreed on the $200 per hour fee. They also agreed that respondent would investigate any other insurance policies and/or retirement funds held by his father where he might have been named as a beneficiary. Mr. Dean endorsed the $2, 004 check, and respondent deposited $300 into Mr. Dean's commissary account.[1] Respondent agreed to make regular $300 deposits into the commissary account until he had disbursed the total amount due to Mr. Dean.

         Respondent identified other insurance policies and investigated Mr. Dean's interest in them. By respondent's calculation, he worked six hours on Mr. Dean's matter and collected a total of $1, 104. Respondent also claimed to have deposited a total of $900 into Mr. Dean's commissary account. However, a review of the commissary account indicated that respondent made three deposits totaling only $594. Respondent failed to respond to the ODC's request that he account for the balance of the funds due to Mr. Dean. He also failed to produce bank records indicating the funds were deposited into his client trust account.

         Respondent made restitution to Mr. Dean in the amount of $1, 410 via a cashier's check dated February 19, 2016.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.15(a) (safekeeping property of clients or third persons), 1.15(d) (failure to timely remit funds to a client or third person), 1.16(d) (obligations upon termination of the representation), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct).

         As previously noted, respondent failed to answer the formal charges in 15-DB-032. 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. In response, respondent admitted to the misconduct and filed three exhibits for the committee's consideration.

         Hearing Committee Report

         Acknowledging that the factual allegations of the formal charges were deemed admitted and that respondent admitted engaging in misconduct as alleged, the hearing committee made these additional factual findings: Respondent received client trust funds of at least $3, 308. Only $594 was deposited into Mr. Dean's commissary account. Respondent misrepresented the amount he sent to Mr. Dean, claiming to have sent $900 when the record reflects he only sent $594. Respondent acknowledged that he only worked six hours at $200 an hour. Based on these facts, the committee determined respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as alleged in the formal charges.

         The committee then determined that respondent intentionally violated duties owed to his client, the legal system, and the legal profession. Respondent caused actual harm, which is still ongoing. The committee determined that the baseline sanction is a suspension for one year or less based on the ABA's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and relevant case law.

         In aggravation, the committee found bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceeding by intentionally failing to comply with the rules or orders of the disciplinary agency, vulnerability of the victim, and indifference to making restitution. ...

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