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In re Swafford

Supreme Court of Louisiana

March 23, 2018

IN RE: GREGORY SWAFFORD

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

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

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         Marie Smith retained respondent to complete a succession. According to Ms. Smith, respondent's fee for handling the matter was initially $5, 000. Respondent then expressed an interest in purchasing part of the succession property, specifically a house located on Farragut Street in New Orleans. Thereafter, Ms. Smith and respondent agreed on a purchase price of $30, 000 for the Farragut Street property, minus the $5, 000 fee. Respondent failed to reduce the terms of the agreement to writing.

         In July 2014, Ms. Smith filed a complaint against respondent with the ODC. In his response to the complaint, respondent claimed that he never represented Ms. Smith, nor did he purport to represent her. Respondent claimed that he was interested in purchasing the Farragut Street property in the event that title was cleared and all necessary parties were available and agreeable, but that another attorney would handle the succession work.

         In contrast to these claims, Ms. Smith submitted copies of e-mail exchanges between herself and respondent that occurred in March 2014. Ms. Smith forwarded to respondent information pertaining to the heirs and decedents, including their contact information. Respondent instructed Ms. Smith to get death certificates for all of the decedents so that he could "start drafting the petitions."

         On March 20, 2014, ten death certificates were hand-delivered to respondent. In a text to Ms. Smith dated June 6, 2014, respondent advised that he would have the succession documents prepared by June 13, 2014. However, respondent failed to provide proof of any action taken regarding the matter. Ultimately, Ms. Smith had another attorney complete the successions and sold the Farragut Street property in 2015.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In September 2016, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that his 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 (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, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation), 1.16(d) (obligations upon termination of the representation), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct).

         Respondent answered the formal charges and denied any misconduct. The matter then proceeded to a formal hearing before the hearing committee.

         Ms. Smith testified at the hearing that respondent presented himself as being able to "rehab, purchase, and complete" the successions for $30, 000. She testified that respondent indicated that he would purchase her family's interest in the Farragut Street property for $30, 000, charge her $5, 000 for legal fees to perform the successions to clear title, and provide the remaining $25, 000 to the family for disbursement. Pursuant to his instructions, which are contained in e-mail communications with her, Ms. Smith acquired death certificates and delivered them to respondent, believing that he would file the successions necessary to transfer title. Based upon his representations, she believed respondent was providing legal services to her. She did not recall him mentioning that a third party would handle the successions to clear title. Ms. Smith testified that she customarily followed up her phone communications with respondent in an e-mail reflecting the conversation. There was no written purchase agreement regarding the Farragut Street property or any legal representation by respondent as a succession attorney, but there were emails between Ms. Smith and respondent where document collection and pleading drafting were discussed. Ms. Smith suffered a lot of duress, fearing that respondent would use the information she provided to take her property.

         Respondent testified that he made the $30, 000 offer for the Farragut Street property and would allocate $5, 000 for the succession work. Respondent stated that the sale was conditioned upon whether the title could be cleared since there were several successions to be opened and relatives to be located. Respondent testified that attorney John Davidson, the owner of Alliance Title, was going to do the succession work. Respondent thought Ms. Smith understood that he would not be doing the succession work. When questioned about his drafting of pleadings and his requesting of documents in e-mail communications with Ms. Smith, respondent testified that he was merely the "facilitator [in] having the petitions drafted" by Mr. Davidson's office. Respondent admitted that he should have communicated better. There was no written agreement between respondent and Ms. Smith for purchase of the property or for legal services. Respondent testified that although he had performed work in succession matters, it was his policy not to personally be the succession attorney on any deal where he is the purchaser.

         Hearing ...


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