IN RE: JOSEPH M. BRUNO
disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the
Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against
respondent, Joseph M. Bruno, an attorney licensed to practice
law in Louisiana.
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 1978. In
1989, respondent was appointed to the Plaintiffs' Legal
Committee in federal class action litigation arising out of
an explosion at the Shell Oil Company refinery in Norco.
During the litigation, respondent made a prohibited monetary
payment to a witness, and later, he failed to correct his
co-counsel who told a federal judge that the payment had not
been made. In 1999, following disciplinary proceedings in the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Louisiana, respondent was suspended from practicing law in
that court for a period of one year. Respondent was
reinstated to practice in federal court in 2000.
the ODC filed formal charges against respondent arising out
of his misconduct in the Shell/Norco litigation. In In
re: Bruno, 06-2791 (La. 5/11/07), 956 So.2d 577
("Bruno I"), this court suspended
respondent from the practice of law for three years, with
eighteen months deferred. Respondent was reinstated to
practice in Louisiana on November 20, 2009. In re:
Bruno, 09-2227 (La. 11/20/09), 21 So.3d 933.
this backdrop, we now turn to a consideration of the
misconduct at issue in the present proceeding.
Phoenix and his wife owned a home in Baton Rouge that they
maintained as rental property. The home sustained wind and
water damage when Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana
on September 1, 2008. Mr. Phoenix, an experienced property
owner who was retired from an insurance company, attempted to
negotiate directly with his insurer, Republic Fire and
Casualty Insurance Company ("Republic"), to resolve
his claim. Mr. Phoenix successfully obtained payments from
Republic in the amount of $4, 099.17 and $269.28, but despite
his best efforts, he was unable to secure what he believed to
be a reasonable additional payment for the loss he had
sustained. After battling with Republic for nearly a year
without success, Mr. Phoenix decided to retain the services
of respondent, who had previously assisted him with a claim
for property damages following Hurricane Katrina.
August 11, 2009, Mr. Phoenix signed a contingency fee
agreement with the law firm of Bruno and Bruno, LLC
("the firm"). Unbeknownst to Mr. Phoenix,
respondent was suspended from the practice of law at this
time as a result of this court's order in Bruno
connection with the representation of clients with hurricane
property damage claims, including Mr. Phoenix, the firm
engaged Full Scope Services, LLC ("Full Scope"), a
claims management and adjustment services company, to inspect
the property in question and document the damages. Following
the inspection of Mr. Phoenix's property, Full Scope
generated a report titled "Proof of Claim" which
estimated losses to the dwelling totaling $34, 574.61. Mr.
Phoenix was not provided a copy of the Full Scope report.
August 20, 2009, respondent's son, Joseph Bruno, Jr.,
forwarded the Full Scope report to Republic. He demanded an
additional $20, 000 to compensate Mr. Phoenix for loss of use
of the dwelling and damage to the contents, for a total claim
of $54, 574.61. Mr. Phoenix was not provided a copy of the
settlement demand. On September 30, 2009, Republic's
adjuster, Amy Hill, advised Mr. Bruno, Jr. that Republic had
rejected the proof of loss as incomplete. She also requested
the submission of photos, receipts, and other items to
substantiate the additional damages claimed. Upon receipt of
Ms. Hill's correspondence, Mr. Bruno, Jr. put it into the
Phoenix file, set the file aside, and did nothing
November 2009, respondent had been reinstated to the practice
of law, and on January 1, 2010, he assumed full
responsibility for Mr. Phoenix's file. On February 3,
2010, Ms. Hill spoke by telephone with Phillip Lee, a
co-owner of Full Scope, about Mr. Phoenix's claim, and
they arrived at a tentative settlement that would cover
property damages. However, Ms. Hill understood that a lawyer
would have to speak to Mr. Phoenix about the offer, and Mr.
Phoenix would necessarily have to agree to the terms. The
amounts tentatively agreed upon were a $5, 219.55 supplement
for dwelling damages; a $1, 000 supplement for contents; and
a $1, 000 supplement for additional living expenses. On
February 8, 2010, Ms. Hill issued three settlement checks and
forwarded the checks and settlement release documents to Mr.
according to respondent's file notes, both Mr. Lee and
Daniel Smart, a law student employed by respondent's law
firm, called and presented the settlement offer to Mr.
Phoenix. Mr. Smart spoke to Mr. Phoenix on March 12, 2010 and
Mr. Lee spoke to Mr. ...