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In re Fontenot

Supreme Court of Louisiana

November 5, 2018

IN RE: TIMMY JAMES FONTENOT

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Timmy James Fontenot, a disbarred attorney.

         PRIOR DISCIPLINARY HISTORY

         Before we address the current charges, we find it helpful to review respondent's prior disciplinary history. Respondent was admitted to the practice of law in Louisiana in 1995.

         In 2011, we considered a joint petition for consent discipline filed by respondent and the ODC wherein respondent acknowledged that he neglected a legal matter, failed to communicate with a client, charged an excessive fee, and made misrepresentations. We accepted the petition for consent discipline and suspended respondent from the practice of law for one year, fully deferred, subject to two years of supervised probation. In re: Fontenot, 11-0989 (La. 6/17/11), 63 So.3d 130 ("Fontenot I").

         In October 2015, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that he settled a personal injury case for $52, 500 without his clients' consent, forged his clients' signatures on the settlement documents, misled his clients as to the status of the case, failed to disburse the settlement proceeds to his clients for five years, failed to reduce the contingency fee agreement to writing, and made cash withdrawals from his client trust account. In November 2017, we disbarred respondent for this misconduct. In re: Fontenot, 17-1661 (La. 11/28/17), 230 So.3d 185 ("Fontenot II"). Respondent will not be eligible to apply for readmission to the practice of law until 2022.

         Against this backdrop, we now turn to a consideration of the misconduct at issue in the instant proceeding.

         FORMAL CHARGES

         On January 7, 2013, respondent and attorney Marcus Fontenot[1] entered into a contract to provide legal services to Evangeline Construction & Trucking, LLC ("the client") with respect to the BP oil spill. On January 9, 2013, respondent and Mr. Fontenot referred the matter to the Fayard & Honeycutt law firm ("the firm") with the client's permission and knowledge. The firm designated respondent as the lead attorney to communicate and assist with the client's contact data and information. With the help of respondent and Mr. Fontenot, the firm pursued a claim in the Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program on behalf of the client.

         In April 2016, the firm received a settlement offer, which had been negotiated through the court-appointed neutrals' opt-out and exclusions confidential settlement program. Respondent presented the settlement offer to the client, and the client accepted the offer, signing the formal release on April 19, 2016. BP ratified the settlement offer on May 14, 2016.[2]

         The settlement funds were subsequently wired to the firm's trust account. The firm then prepared the final disbursement sheet, release, and dismissal of the client's action. On June 1, 2016, the funds were disbursed according to the final disbursement sheet. The client's portion of the settlement check was made payable directly to Evangeline Construction & Trucking, LLC. The client's settlement check, the disbursement sheet, and the check for attorney's fees were then forwarded to respondent. The firm's trust account records indicate that the checks cleared the account in June 2016.

         On July 27, 2016, Mr. Fontenot called the firm to inquire about the status of the funding of the client's settlement. The firm informed Mr. Fontenot that it had sent $275, 214.02 in client settlement funds along with all appropriate disbursement and settlement documents to respondent on June 1, 2016. Thereafter, the firm called the client and learned that respondent had issued the client a check for $200, 214.02 instead of $275, 214.02. The firm then learned respondent had forged the client's name on the back of the firm's trust account check made payable to the client and deposited the check into his trust account. The firm also learned that, when respondent issued the $200, 214.02 check to the client, respondent had the client sign a handwritten receipt acknowledging it had received the settlement check.

         On July 28, 2016, attorney Blayne Honeycutt, a partner at the firm, instructed respondent to disburse the entire $275, 214.02 immediately to the client, and respondent agreed to do so. On July 29, 2016, respondent advised Mr. Honeycutt that he had disbursed all funds in accordance with the disbursement sheet. Respondent also sent the firm and Mr. Fontenot a copy of his trust account check number 1771 in the amount of $275, 214.02, which contained a copy of the client's signed acknowledgement that it had received these funds.

         However, the firm later learned that respondent had copied the client's handwritten acknowledgment of receipt of funds from the $200, 214.02 check and transferred it to the copy of his trust account check number 1771 in the amount of $275, 214.02. Respondent's trust account check number 1771 in the amount of $275, 214.02 never cleared the bank because it was only written by respondent to convince the firm and Mr. Fontenot that he had paid the client the entire settlement amount when he had, in fact, not done so.

         When confronted with these findings, respondent indicated that he had not paid the client the entire amount because he simply did not have all the money in his trust account. Upon learning of respondent's actions, the firm and/or Mr. Fontenot contacted the client and asked it not to deposit the $200, 214.02 check. Then, on August 1, 2016, Mr. Honeycutt and Mr. Fontenot deposited $75, 000 into respondent's trust ...


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