disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the
Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against
respondent, Alicia Johnson Butler, an attorney licensed to
practice law in Louisiana.
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 2000. In
2013, this court accepted a joint petition for consent
discipline in which respondent stipulated that she failed to
promptly notify a third party of receipt of funds in which
the third party had an interest, failed to hold those funds
separate from her personal funds, and misinformed a federal
court of the correct amount of a reimbursement owed to her
following the settlement of her client's case. For this
misconduct, respondent was suspended from the practice of law
for six months, fully deferred, subject to one year of
supervised probation with the condition that she attend
Ethics School. In re: Butler, 13-2632 (La. 1/10/14), 144
So.3d 844 ("Butler I").
October 2013, Tammy Charles hired respondent to represent her
on a contingency fee basis in a claim for damages arising out
of injuries she had sustained in a motor vehicle accident.
Prior to hiring respondent, Ms. Charles had negotiated with
her insurer and made a claim for "med pay"
benefits. These benefits were paid.
filed suit against the alleged tortfeasor and his insurer in
the 16thJDC for the Parish of Iberia. The case was
set for trial in March 2015, but was continued because
respondent, who also works as an indigent defender in Iberia
Parish, had a criminal matter scheduled the same day which
under the local practice had priority over civil matters. Ms.
Charles was advised of the continuance and the new trial date
set in September 2015. Ms. Charles indicated that she never
agreed to or authorized respondent to file the motion for
2014, Ms. Charles was deposed by the defense. Due to an
emergency, respondent was unable to attend the deposition.
However, respondent made arrangements for another attorney to
attend the deposition to represent Ms. Charles' interests
and provided Ms. Charles with written material in preparation
for giving deposition testimony. According to Ms. Charles,
she did not know the attorney who appeared at the deposition
on her behalf.
August 20, 2015, respondent met with Ms. Charles. During the
meeting, respondent advised Ms. Charles of a settlement offer
of $75, 000 plus court costs, which she recommended that Ms.
Charles accept. On August 24, 2015, respondent faxed an
acceptance letter to defense counsel. Two weeks later,
defense counsel sent respondent the settlement documents and
a check made payable to both Ms. Charles and respondent.
Respondent endorsed Ms. Charles' name on the settlement
check and deposited the check into her trust account on
September 16, 2015. Respondent also signed a judgment of
dismissal in Ms. Charles' suit, which was granted by the
trial court on September 22, 2015.
September 25, 2015, respondent met with Ms. Charles to have
her execute the settlement documents and review the
disbursement of settlement funds. In anticipation of Ms.
Charles' agreement to the disbursement, respondent
prepared seven checks drawn on her trust account to pay
third-party healthcare providers and to pay her
attorney's fee and advanced expenses.
the meeting, a dispute arose concerning the disbursement of
funds. Specifically, respondent and Ms. Charles disputed
whether the "med pay" carrier had a lien on the
settlement funds, whether monies needed to be set aside to
satisfy such a lien, and which healthcare providers were paid
and in what amounts. Multiple disbursement sheets were
prepared in an attempt to properly allocate the proceeds, but
respondent and Ms. Charles could not agree on how to disburse
trust account records indicate that on September 30, 2015,
she took $36, 279.72 for her fees and expenses from the
settlement funds. However, respondent did not simultaneously
pay the remaining balance of $38, 720.28 to Ms. Charles or to
any third-party healthcare providers.
October 12, 2015, the ODC received a complaint from Ms.
Charles, alleging that respondent failed to communicate with
her and settled her personal injury matter without her
knowledge or consent. Ms. Charles alleged that she did not learn
about the settlement until September 11, 2015, a few days
prior to the second trial date, when she called respondent to
see if the trial was still set or if it had been
October 27, 2015, respondent hand-delivered to defense
counsel an unsigned copy of the receipt and release of claim,
a $75, 000 check drawn on her trust account (although there
were not sufficient funds in the account to honor the check
had it been presented at that time), and a letter explaining
that she was refunding the settlement funds because Ms.
Charles refused to sign the release. The next day, defense
counsel returned the check to respondent, advising that the
settlement was enforceable and suggesting that the proceeds
be deposited into the registry of the court.
then filed a motion to rescind the judgment of dismissal.
Although she was advised that a $300 filing fee had to be
paid before the pleading could be processed, these costs were
never paid. According to the deputy clerk for the Iberia
Parish Clerk of Court, no funds were ever placed in the
registry of the court in the matter. Instead, on November 13,
2015, respondent used $40, 000 in personal funds to purchase
a certificate of deposit from Regions Bank. Respondent listed
herself as the "sole owner" of the certificate of
deposit, which had a term of seventy months. There is no
contemporaneous writing to evidence that this certificate of
deposit was money set aside for paying Ms. Charles her share
of the settlement proceeds or to pay any third-party
Charles did not receive any settlement proceeds from
respondent, and collection activity was initiated against Ms.
Charles and her husband. Respondent also did not pay
third-party health care providers from the settlement funds.
Between January 2016 and May 2016, respondent's trust
account had a balance of less than $38, 720.28, the amount
due to Ms. Charles and owed to her healthcare providers.
alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following
provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.2
(scope of the representation), 1.3 (failure to act with
reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a
client), 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), 1.15(a)
(safekeeping property of clients and third persons), 1.15(d)
(a lawyer shall promptly deliver to a client or third person
any funds or other property that the client or third person
is entitled to receive), 3.3(a) (candor toward the tribunal),
4.1(a) (a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement
of material fact or law to a third person), 8.1(a) (a lawyer
shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact
in connection with a disciplinary matter), 8.4(a) (violation
of the Rules of Professional Conduct), 8.4(b) (commission of
a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's
honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), 8.4(c)
(engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or
misrepresentation), and 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct
prejudicial to the administration of justice).
December 2016, the ODC filed formal charges against
respondent, as set forth above. Respondent, through counsel,
answered the formal charges, and the matter proceeded to a
formal hearing on the merits.