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In re Derouen

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 16, 2017



          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Peter Brian Derouen, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, but currently ineligible to practice.[1]


         In August 2014, Danielle Garner retained respondent to represent her in a personal injury matter stemming from an automobile accident. Thereafter, respondent failed to communicate with Ms. Garner and failed to coordinate necessary medical treatment for her injuries.

         In March 2015, Ms. Garner hired attorney Gabe Duhon to assume the representation. Mr. Duhon asked respondent for a copy of Ms. Garner's file, an accounting of settlement proceeds, and an itemization of expenses. Respondent promised to deliver the file by March 23, 2015. When he failed to do so, Mr. Duhon sent respondent two e-mails requesting the file. He also spoke with respondent by telephone and informed him that medical bill collectors were contacting Ms. Garner. Respondent assured Mr. Duhon that the bills had been paid and promised to personally deliver the file on April 29, 2015. Respondent did not deliver the file as promised. Mr. Duhon then spoke with respondent's secretary, who said she would immediately e-mail the file. When this did not occur, she promised to put the contents of the file onto a disc.

         The following day, members of Mr. Duhon's staff found a manila envelope on the sidewalk outside his office. The envelope was labeled "Garner" and contained one disc labeled "Danielle Garner." The disc contained no settlement documentation, no copies of proceed checks, no settlement disbursement sheet, and no accounting. After reviewing the contents of the disc, Mr. Duhon asked respondent to immediately e-mail any settlement disbursement sheets and/or documents executed by Ms. Garner, as well as copies of checks paid on her behalf. After getting no response, Mr. Duhon made multiple additional demands upon respondent for an accounting, to no avail.

         Mr. Duhon later learned that in December 2014, Ms. Garner's UM insurer, Esurance, tendered to respondent a check in the amount of $13, 746.44. Respondent had Ms. Garner endorse the check and he then deposited it into his client trust account. Respondent had also settled the claim against the defendant insurer for $15, 000.00. Two checks were delivered to him in February 2015. The first, a $9, 118.76 check, was to pay a medical lien, which was never paid. Respondent deposited the second check, in the amount of $5, 881.24, into his trust account after Ms. Garner endorsed it. The only sums paid by respondent were a $1, 000 "loan" to Ms. Garner, $19.46 to Acadian Ambulance, and $8.50 to Louisiana State Police.[2]

         Following another unfulfilled request for an accounting and for immediate delivery of checks and/or funds in his possession, Mr. Duhon and Ms. Garner filed complaints against respondent with the ODC. Respondent failed to respond to either, necessitating the issuance of a subpoena to obtain his sworn statement. On the day before the sworn statement was scheduled, respondent contacted the ODC asking to be excused from the sworn statement and to request new copies of the complaints, claiming he had never received them. The statement was canceled. Respondent was given the copies and instructed to respond. The ODC then discovered that he had personally signed for the prior complaints. Respondent was asked to provide an explanation as to why he stated that he had never received the complaints.

         In his response, respondent did not give the explanation, or address his failures to produce the file, or provide an accounting of funds, or provide any disbursement sheets of any monies/funds received, or produce an itemization of all expenses, or remit any settlement funds he received. Accordingly, the ODC asked respondent to provide a supplemental written response. Once again, respondent failed to explain the claim that he never received the initial complaints. The ODC issued another subpoena for his sworn statement as well as a subpoena duces tecum. The statement was initially scheduled for February, but because the ODC was unable to serve respondent, the statement was re-set for March. At that time, the documents responsive to the subpoena duces tecum were to be collected.

         Respondent appeared for the statement, but he did not bring the documents. He was then instructed to produce the documents as well as additional information that the ODC felt was necessary by March 18, 2016. At that time, respondent provided only some of the requested information. Two months later, he provided some more, but not all, of the additional information.

         Mr. Duhon moved to enforce the settlement against the insurance company in Ms. Garner's matter. Respondent, who was not present for the hearing, was ordered to return $5, 881.24 to Ms. Garner. When he failed to pay her, Mr. Duhon moved for respondent to be held in contempt. Respondent was personally served with notice of the court date, but he failed to appear and was held in contempt.

         In October 2015, Mr. Duhon sued respondent on behalf of Ms. Garner. He subpoenaed respondent's bank records and forwarded them to the ODC. A review of his trust account showed a deposit of $19, 627.68 in Ms. Garner's settlement funds but only $209.17 in the account. Because Ms. Garner received only $1, 000 from respondent, $18, 627.68 of her funds had been converted. During his sworn statement, respondent acknowledged that he owed Ms. Garner the funds, although he was unsure of the exact amount. Respondent also promised to "cash in" an investment to pay her. To date, he has not done so.

         DISCIPLINARY ...

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