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In re Watkins

Supreme Court of Louisiana

November 14, 2018

IN RE: TYRONE F. WATKINS

          ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

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

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         On August 7, 2015, Shawn Sanne hired respondent to represent him in expungement proceedings of his three felony and one misdemeanor convictions. Mr. Sanne paid respondent $4, 300 for attorney's fees and court costs associated with all four expungements.

         On August 14, 2015, respondent filed a motion for expungement in one of the felony cases. On September 30, 2015, he filed a motion for expungement in the misdemeanor case. The State filed objections to both motions and sought contradictory hearings. Respondent moved to continue both proceedings. However, one of the cases was rescheduled for hearing on December 14, 2015, and the court again continued the proceeding because no one appeared on Mr. Sanne's behalf.

         Thereafter, respondent took no further action to advance the two pending expungement proceedings. He also failed to take any action regarding the two other expungements he was hired to handle. Furthermore, respondent did not respond to numerous telephone calls and e-mails from Mr. Sanne and his office assistant, Penny O'Neal, including a final e-mail dated May 23, 2016, which reported that Mr. Sanne was "thoroughly fed up with the lack of communication and information." Then, on August 17, 2016, Mr. Sanne sent a letter to respondent via certified mail, which respondent failed to claim.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In August 2017, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that his conduct 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 (fee arrangements), 1.16 (declining or terminating representation), and 3.2 (failure to make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation). In his answer, respondent stated:

I have received the formal charges that were filed against me in the above referenced matter and I admit that I dropped the ball on this one. However, while the majority of the charges are accurate I believe that [there] is a material issue of fact regarding the violation of Rules of Professional Conduct rule 1.4 (lack of communication) that I need to explain.
Please allow me an opportunity to be heard in person in a mitigation hearing.

         Hearing Committee Report

         Following the mitigation hearing, the hearing committee noted that Mr. Sanne testified regarding his great difficulty, over an extended period of time, in getting a status update from respondent. Ms. O'Neal corroborated Mr. Sanne's testimony and additionally testified that, after respondent received the full payment on August 7, 2015, he did not initiate any contact with either her or Mr. Sanne. Ms. O'Neal further stated that they first learned respondent had filed the motions for expungement when they received subpoenas from the court. They then called respondent, who advised them of the State's objections, of the continuance of the hearings, and of his intention to pursue the expungements at a later date.

         With respect to respondent's testimony, the committee noted that he stipulated to violating Rules 1.4, 1.5, 1.16, and 3.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct but not Rule 1.3. Respondent also testified that he considered mediation to determine the portion of the fee he needed to return to Mr. Sanne but abandoned the effort because he did not have the funds available to provide a refund. Nevertheless, he committed to refunding the portion of the fee the committee deemed unearned. Respondent then indicated that he took preliminary steps to complete the expungements, paying $25 for a background check on Mr. Sanne and paying $550 in court costs. However, he admitted he "dropped the ball" after the expungements proved more complex than he anticipated. Respondent then testified that, although he had handled approximately a dozen expungements previously, they were all routine and unopposed. When the State objected to the two expungements he filed, respondent became aware of a change in law that posed additional obstacles to the relief sought. Respondent ...


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