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In re Black

Supreme Court of Louisiana

March 13, 2018

IN RE: LAETITIA BLACK

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

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

         FORMAL CHARGES

         Count I - The Lewis Matter

         The factual allegations of the formal charges allege that Dennis Lewis hired respondent to assist him in a property partition matter involving a house owned by Mr. Lewis' deceased parents. Respondent mailed letters to the other heirs of the house requesting that they consider donating their specific interests in the property to Mr. Lewis. When none of the other heirs responded, respondent requested and received $2, 500 from Mr. Lewis to file a petition to partition the various legal interests in the house.[1] Respondent drafted a petition to partition the property and for the court to appoint a curator for any absent defendants. However, for reasons unknown, the petition was never filed with the court. Mr. Lewis indicated that respondent then terminated the representation. When he went to her office to try to obtain his file, he was unable to locate her because she had moved her law practice to another, unknown location.

         The factual allegations of the formal charges further allege that in October 2014, Mr. Lewis filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent, which resulted in the matter being referred to the Louisiana State Bar Association ("LSBA") fee dispute resolution program. However, when respondent failed to cooperate with the request for fee dispute resolution, the matter was remanded to the ODC for further investigation. The ODC made numerous attempts to contact respondent, sending notice of Mr. Lewis' complaint to several addresses. Notice of the complaint also included notice that she was in violation of Rule 1.16(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct because her legal services contract contained language stating the client was required to pay fees before she would agree to return the file to the client. Respondent did not respond to any of the ODC's letters, most of which were returned by the post office as unclaimed. On December 2, 2015, respondent finally e-mailed the ODC to ask about the nature of the ODC's attempts to contact her. The ODC advised her that she needed to either arrange to pick up her certified mail at the post office or come to the ODC's office to pick up the correspondence. Respondent did not come to the ODC's office or pick up her mail at the post office as the last letter was returned unclaimed. The ODC made one more attempt to serve respondent with notice of the complaint, via certified mail, at her newly listed address in Shreveport. Someone other than respondent signed for and accepted the letter on January 21, 2016, but respondent never responded to the complaint.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct, as set forth above, 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), 1.5(f)(5) (failure to refund an unearned fee), 1.16(d) (obligations upon termination of the representation), and 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation).

         Count II - The Failure to Cooperate Matter

         The factual allegations of the formal charges allege that Jude Williams hired respondent to represent him in a breach of contract matter. In April 2013, Mr. Williams filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent, alleging she failed to expedite his claim, failed to communicate with him, and frequently billed him for legal work that was not performed. After investigating Mr. Williams' complaint, the ODC elected to close the complaint on March 17, 2014 on the condition that respondent attend the LSBA Trust Accounting School, participate in the fee dispute resolution program, and pay the costs of her sworn statement. Respondent agreed to these conditions.

         The factual allegations of the formal charges further allege that when respondent failed to participate in fee dispute resolution or pay the costs of the sworn statement, the ODC opened a formal complaint against her on July 15, 2015. The ODC then experienced great difficulty in locating respondent in order to serve her with notice of the complaint as well as a subpoena to obtain her sworn statement. Respondent never responded to the complaint.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct, as set forth above, violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 8.1(c) and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In May 2016, 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 ...


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