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In re Purser

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 9, 2017

IN RE: ROBERT B. PURSER

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Robert B. Purser, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana but currently on interim suspension for threat of harm to the public. In re: Purser, 13-0875 (La. 4/24/13), 117 So.3d 1246.

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         Count I - The Amerisafe Matter

         Between 2003 and 2012, respondent represented insurance companies Amerisafe, Inc. and American Interstate Insurance Company (collectively referred to as "Amerisafe") in various subrogation claims against third parties. In December 2012, Amerisafe filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent, alleging that he settled three separate claims on Amerisafe's behalf and failed to remit the funds to Amerisafe. Specifically, Amerisafe alleged the following: (1) Respondent settled a subrogation claim on Amerisafe's behalf in the amount of $25, 000, and Amerisafe never received the funds despite respondent indicating that he placed a check in the mail; (2) Amerisafe resolved a claim by accepting a $40, 000 settlement. Respondent indicated that he placed the funds into his client trust account, but Amerisafe never received the funds despite repeated requests for respondent to remit same; and (3) Amerisafe agreed to accept $35, 000 in satisfaction of a lien. When Amerisafe repeatedly demanded that respondent remit the funds, he informed Amerisafe that he was holding the funds in his client trust account. In response to the complaint, respondent denied any misconduct and indicated that he sent Amerisafe the funds shortly after receiving the complaint. However, Amerisafe indicated it only received $25, 000 in connection with one claim and that the check was returned because of a stop payment on it.

         Amerisafe filed a lawsuit against respondent to recover the above-mentioned funds and, through discovery, confirmed that respondent deposited the funds into his client trust account. The lawsuit resulted in a default judgment against respondent in the approximate amount of $120, 000, which included the subrogation recovery amounts and attorney's fees. Amerisafe has not yet been able to collect any of the funds due under the judgment.

         Respondent further failed to inform Amerisafe of a judgment rendered against it in a case he was handling on its behalf. He then missed oral argument in the case when it was before the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal on November 2, 2011.

         The ODC requested that respondent provide documentation related to his client trust account for the period between January 2011 and March 13, 2013. Respondent failed to provide the requested documentation.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.3 (failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client), 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct), 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act reflecting 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).

         Count II - The Bower Matter

         Brenda Ann Bower hired respondent to represent her in a lawsuit against her former boyfriend to obtain her share of Certificates of Deposit that she and her former boyfriend had purchased together. Respondent took the case on a contingency fee basis, and after a trial, Ms. Bower was awarded $177, 503.82. Respondent received the funds on Ms. Bower's behalf in February and March 2012. He took his attorney's fees and informed Ms. Bower he was holding the remaining funds in his client trust account until she decided how she wanted to proceed.

         Ms. Bower wanted to purchase a mobile home but was unable to obtain financing. While she could have used the proceeds from the judgment to purchase the mobile home, respondent convinced her to let him finance the purchase instead. Respondent obtained a loan and purchased the mobile home for Ms. Bower but put it in his name.

         Ms. Bower then instructed respondent to put her portion of the proceeds in a trust, but respondent failed to do so. Therefore, on December 19, 2012, Ms. Bower sent a letter to respondent, via certified mail, requesting information about the whereabouts of her funds. Respondent received the letter on December 21, 2012 but did not provide Ms. Bower with the requested information.

         In January 2013, Ms. Bower filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent. Respondent provided the ODC with a written response on March 25, 2013, but he failed to appear for a sworn statement scheduled for April 18, 2013 and failed to produce subpoenaed documents.

         On March 6, 2013, respondent sent Ms. Bower a check in the amount of $47, 312.13. On March 23, 2013, respondent sent Ms. Bower another check in the amount of $52, 000. Ms. Bower reported that both checks were returned due to insufficient funds in the accounts. Ms. Bower also provided the ODC with copies of text messages in which respondent made repeated promises to provide her with her funds, which promises he failed to fulfill. Eventually, Ms. Bower filed a claim with and received $25, 000 from the Louisiana State Bar Association's ("LSBA") Client Assistance Fund.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(c) (contingency fee agreements), 1.8(a) (a lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client), 8.4(a), 8.4(b), and 8.4(c).

         Count III - The Client Trust Account Overdraft Matter

         On February 15, 2013, the ODC received notice from American Bank and Trust Company that an overdraft occurred in respondent's client trust account when a $54, 116 item was presented for payment and the account balance was not sufficient to pay the item. The bank returned the item due to insufficient funds in the account, leaving the account with a positive balance. The bank's notice to the ODC also indicated that the bank closed the account on February 11, 2013. Respondent failed to register this particular client trust account with the LSBA, as required.

         On February 22, 2013, the ODC sent a letter, via certified mail, to respondent requesting a written explanation for the overdraft and copies of documents related to the client trust account for the previous six months. Despite receiving the letter, respondent never provided the ODC with the requested information. As such, the ODC subpoenaed the records from American Bank and Trust Company.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 8.4(a), 8.4(b), and 8.4(c).

         Count IV - The Elder/Sikora Matter

         In May 2011, Joseph Elder and Cherie Sikora hired respondent to defend them in a civil lawsuit brought by the buyer of their former home. They initially paid respondent a $2, 500 fee. In February 2013, respondent informed Mr. Elder and Ms. Sikora that he needed an additional $2, 500 to proceed with the case. They paid him the additional $2, 500, and shortly thereafter, respondent was interimly suspended from the practice of law. Respondent did not notify Mr. Elder and Ms. Sikora of his interim suspension.

         Upon learning of the interim suspension from another source, Mr. Elder and Ms. Sikora filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent. Their complaint alleged that respondent did nothing to move their case to conclusion. They also alleged that depositions were set several times but always continued, and they would only find out about the continuances by calling respondent's secretary. Respondent never provided a written response to the complaint but did appear to provide the ODC with a sworn statement. Mr. Elder filed a claim with and received $4, 500 from the Client Assistance Fund.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(b) (the scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client), 1.5(f)(5) (failure to refund an unearned fee), and 8.4(a). In addition, the ODC alleged that respondent ...


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