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In re Martin

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 16, 2017

IN RE: MICHAEL LOUIS MARTIN

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

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

         FORMAL CHARGES

         The ODC received notice from Regions Bank that respondent's client trust account was overdrawn on eight occasions during the period of December 4, 2012 through January 18, 2013. Notice of the overdraft was forwarded to respondent along with instructions to provide the ODC with copies of bank statements, canceled checks, and disbursement sheets, as well as a written explanation of the circumstances relating to the overdraft and any steps that had been taken to resolve the matter. Respondent failed to respond to the ODC's requests for information.

         The ODC subpoenaed respondent's trust account records for the period from June 2012 through August 2013. After reviewing various bank documents from the account, including bank statements and canceled checks, the ODC staff auditor, Traci D. Fontenot, concluded that respondent had converted and commingled client trust funds and had misused his trust account on numerous occasions by writing checks payable to cash and by paying personal bills from the account.

          The ODC alleged that 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(f) (cash withdrawals and checks made payable to "Cash" are prohibited on client trust accounts), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct).

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In December 2015, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent. 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 reviewing the ODC's deemed admitted submission, the hearing committee found that the factual allegations in the formal charges were deemed admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence. Based on these facts, the committee determined that respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as charged. In addition, the committee found a violation of Rule 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation).[1]

          The committee cited Standard 4.12 of the ABA's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions which provides that suspension is generally appropriate when a lawyer knows or should know that he is dealing improperly with client property and causes injury or potential injury to a client. The committee also cited Standard 7.2 which provides that suspension is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty as a professional and causes injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system.

         In aggravation, the committee found a dishonest or selfish motive and substantial experience in the practice of law (admitted 1984). The committee also noted respondent's failure to cooperate with the ODC. In mitigation, the committee found the absence of a prior disciplinary record and the imposition of other penalties and sanctions.

         After considering the aforementioned factors and the collective misconduct, the committee recommended respondent be suspended from the practice of law for three years. The committee also recommended respondent be ordered to account for funds in the trust account during the audit period and pay restitution. The ...


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