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In re Boutte

Supreme Court of Louisiana

September 21, 2018

IN RE: CHANTELL M. BOUTTÉ

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

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

         FORMAL CHARGES

         Count I

         In April 2015, Yolanda Williams hired respondent to represent her in a claim for injuries she sustained following a slip and fall accident at Abbeville General Hospital. Respondent advised Ms. Williams that she would contact the hospital on her behalf and work with attorney David Rutledge to file a lawsuit against the hospital. Thereafter, respondent abandoned her law practice without notice to her client. She failed to return Ms. Williams' telephone calls, e-mails, or correspondences. Mr. Rutledge also attempted to contact respondent, but received no response. Mr. Rutledge eventually had to file a protective suit on behalf of Ms. Williams. Due to respondent's lack of diligence, Ms. Williams' case was dismissed. The ODC attempted to contact respondent about this matter on numerous occasions, to no avail.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.2 (scope of the representation), 1.3 (a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client), 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), 8.1(c) (failure to cooperate with the ODC in its investigation), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct).

         Count II

         In July 2015, Angie Perkins hired respondent to represent her in a child custody and support matter, for which she paid a $3, 000 flat fee. Ms. Perkins also engaged respondent to handle a community property matter, for which she paid an advanced deposit in the amount of $3, 500, to be billed at a rate of $225 per hour. A written fee agreement was signed on July 21, 2015.

         Thereafter, respondent filed a petition to modify child custody and support, a motion to recuse the hearing officer, and a memo in support of recusal. In addition, respondent submitted correspondence to the court, in lieu of attendance, and a proposed judgment on the recusal. Respondent also filed a motion to reset the custody hearing, which was returned because she failed to sign the motion. Respondent performed no other work related to the child custody and support matter. Respondent performed no work in the community property matter.

         After becoming frustrated with respondent's failure to communicate with her, Ms. Perkins, through her new attorney, formally discharged respondent in May 2016. Ms. Perkins requested a copy of her file, the unearned portion of the fee in the child custody and support matter, and a full refund for the community property matter. Respondent did not respond to these requests.

         The ODC's investigation revealed that respondent had received the advanced deposit in the amount of $3, 500 on July 21, 2015. The contract between respondent and Ms. Perkins clearly states that respondent would charge an hourly rate and deduct from this deposit. Accordingly, the funds should have been deposited into a client trust account. However, respondent's trust account disclosure form, which was updated on August 14, 2015, states that she did not handle client funds and did not have a trust account. A review of the endorsement on the back of the check reflects that the check was cashed at Woodforest National Bank on July 29, 2015, not deposited into a client trust account. In addition, Woodforest National Bank is not on the list of approved/qualified banks for trust accounts, and attorneys are prohibited from maintaining a trust account with any banking institution that is not on the list of approved/qualified banks.

         Respondent converted client funds to her own use. She also abandoned her law practice, failed to provide notice to her client, and failed to provide her client with a copy of her file so she could hire new counsel. The ODC attempted to contact respondent on numerous occasions, to no avail.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(f)(4) (when the client pays the lawyer an advance deposit to be used for costs and expenses, the funds remain the property of the client and must be placed in the lawyer's trust account), 1.15(a) (safekeeping property of clients or third persons), 1.16(d) (obligations upon termination of the ...


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