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In re Weston

Supreme Court of Louisiana

March 26, 2019

IN RE: DORIS McWHITE WESTON

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

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

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         By way of background, in 2010, respondent commenced employment with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), where she remains employed as an Attorney IV. She also maintains a small private practice.

         In September 2013, respondent began representing her father in a personal injury matter. On September 19, 2013, respondent wrote to third-party medical provider Broadmoor Chiropractic Clinic ("the clinic") to assure the clinic that she would pay her father's medical bill from any settlement or proceeds received on her father's behalf. That same day, the clinic sent a medical lien letter to respondent. The clinic treated respondent's father from September 16, 2013 until January 2, 2014.

         On January 30, 2014, respondent settled her father's claim for $12, 500. That same day, she negotiated a reduction of the clinic's $4, 901 bill to $4, 000 if paid within thirty days. On February 10, 2014, respondent deposited the settlement check into her trust account. On February 11, 2014, respondent transferred $4, 000 from the trust account to her operating account. On February 12, 2014, respondent had a cashier's check in the amount of $8, 475.01 issued on her trust account and made payable to her parents. Respondent did not charge her father any attorney's fees and waived $56.50 in medical records costs. Respondent prepared a settlement statement, which reflected that the clinic was owed $4, 000 and that this amount was $901 less than the clinic's original charge.

         The clinic did not receive the $4, 000 within the thirty-day period and notified respondent that it was now seeking full payment. On several occasions in March and April 2014, the clinic attempted to contact respondent about the outstanding balance. On April 30, 2014, respondent called the clinic and stated that the case had been closed and a check sent three weeks previously. The clinic informed respondent that it had not received a check. On May 27, 2014, respondent told the clinic she would determine if the check had been cashed and, if not, would reissue the check. The clinic made several subsequent attempts to collect the balance.

         On August 6, 2014, respondent sent the clinic a cashier's check in the amount of $4, 000. On August 12, 2014, the clinic notified respondent that there was still a balance due of $901 and that, if the balance was not paid, it would "follow through with contacting the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board." Respondent informed the clinic that she would pay the $901 on August 29, 2014. However, the clinic still had not received the payment on September 11, 2014. That day and the next, the clinic contacted respondent about the balance. On September 17, 2014, respondent gave the clinic her debit card information in order to make the payment, but the charge was declined by the credit card company because it exceeded respondent's daily limit for debit card transactions. On September 30, 2014, the clinic filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent; the ODC received this complaint in its office on October 3, 2014. Also on October 3, 2014, the clinic successfully charged $700 to respondent's debit card. On November 11, 2014, the clinic successfully charged the remaining $201 to respondent's debit card.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In October 2017, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that her conduct violated Rule 1.15 (safekeeping property of clients or third persons) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Respondent answered the formal charges, essentially acknowledging the underlying facts set forth above. She further explained:

In an effort to resolve the matter, I arranged for the payment of $901. This amount was paid from my personal funds, as I withheld only the $4000.00 agreed upon as Broadmoor Clinic payment from Mr. McWhite's settlement proceeds. After making the arrangement, a representative from Broadmoor Chiropractic Clinic later advised that the attempt to charge the debit card failed. This was due to my daily limit being less than the $901 dollar charge. I instructed Broadmoor Chiropractic Clinic to split the payment into two payments of $700 and $201, to be ran on different dates. The first payment posted without incident. The remaining balance of $201 somehow remained outstanding, until I received a complaint about an unpaid balance. I contacted Broadmoor Clinic, was advised that the employee I entered the arrangement with was no longer employed there. My card number was on file and the representative made the charge to my account at that time, clearing the outstanding $201 balance. I apologized for any miscommunication. The account has been paid in full.

         Formal Hearing

         This matter proceeded to a formal hearing on the merits. The ODC introduced the transcripts of the depositions of two witnesses associated with the clinic, but did not call any witnesses to testify before the hearing committee. ...


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