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In re Gbalazeh

Supreme Court of Louisiana

December 5, 2017

IN RE: DOUNNISEI KUO GBALAZEH

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

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

         FORMAL CHARGES

         In January 2009, the ODC learned that the Baton Rouge Police Department had issued an arrest warrant against respondent. In February 2009, the ODC sent respondent notice of the associated disciplinary complaint to her primary bar registration address. The certified mail was returned marked "unable to forward." On March 5, 2009, the ODC spoke with respondent and advised her of the pending complaint. The ODC also advised respondent that her sworn statement had been scheduled for March 10, 2009. Although respondent verbally agreed to appear for the sworn statement, she failed to do so. The criminal charge was later dismissed, but respondent has never responded to the complaint.

         After respondent was declared ineligible to practice law in Louisiana, the only state in which she is licensed to practice law, she was indefinitely suspended by the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") on June 10, 2014. Thereafter, on two separate occasions (July 10, 2014 and May 20, 2015), respondent attempted to enroll as counsel of record for an immigration client by submitting a signed Form G-28 (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative) to the Department of Homeland Security at a time when she was neither eligible to practice law in Louisiana nor authorized to practice as an attorney before the Immigration Courts. The ODC sent respondent notice of the associated disciplinary complaint in June 2015, but she has never responded to the complaint.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In February 2016, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that her conduct, as set forth above, violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 5.5 (engaging in the unauthorized practice of law), 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.)

         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 considering the ODC's deemed admitted submission, the hearing committee determined 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 respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as alleged in the formal charges.

         The committee determined that respondent violated duties owed to her clients, the public, and the legal profession. Her actions were intentional because after she was suspended from practicing before the BIA, she attempted to enter an appearance as attorney of record in proceedings before that agency. She caused actual harm to her clients by delaying the immigration proceedings, to the courts by wasting judicial resources, and to the public by eroding confidence and trust in the legal profession and the legal system. Under the ABA's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, the baseline sanction is suspension.

         In aggravation, the committee found a dishonest or selfish motive, multiple offenses, and bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceeding by intentionally failing to comply with the rules or orders of the disciplinary agency. In mitigation, the committee found the absence of a prior disciplinary record and inexperience in the practice of law (admitted 2007).

         After also considering this court's prior jurisprudence addressing similar misconduct, the committee recommended respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one year and one day. The committee further recommended ...


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