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In re Butler

Supreme Court of Louisiana

May 8, 2019

IN RE: DANTE JEROME BUTLER

          ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

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

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         By way of background, Charles Taylor and Shawna Terrell were the principals of an organization known as the Knowledge Center Temple ("KCT"). Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell held themselves out as "pro se paralegals" who assisted incarcerated individuals with their post-conviction relief proceedings. Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell are not attorneys, nor are they inmates who provide legal services and assistance to other inmates as "inmate counsel substitutes" under regulations of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.[1]

         In 2014, respondent was approached by Mr. Taylor, who said that he was looking for an attorney to "go over his work." Respondent knew that Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell were not attorneys, but he nevertheless agreed to "proofread" the legal work done by Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell on behalf of individuals who contacted KCT. The arrangement between KCT and respondent as to the work to be performed, or the fee arrangement, was never reduced to writing.

         In May 2015, Raymond Casaday contacted KCT after he learned about its services from individuals at the correctional center where he was incarcerated. Mr. Casaday advised that his criminal matter was pending on appeal and that he was seeking assistance with the later filing of an application for post-conviction relief. Mr. Taylor determined the amount of the fee for the services to be provided would be $7, 000. Mr. Casaday sent $500 to KCT on June 12, 2015, but knowing that Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell were not licensed to practice law, he advised Mr. Taylor that he wanted an attorney to handle the matter.

         On June 20, 2015, Ms. Terrell wrote to Mr. Casaday, advising that she had received the funds and that "we do have a lawyer for you, so when you're ready to start this process please don't hesitate to let us know." On June 28, 2015, Ms. Terrell wrote Mr. Casaday again, advising that she had done a case analysis and could "see where we can get you another trial based upon newly discovered evidence." Mr. Casaday was also advised in this correspondence that respondent would be representing him. Mr. Casaday subsequently spoke with respondent, who confirmed the fee for the services to be provided.

         On July 15, 2015, Mr. Casaday forwarded an additional $6, 500 to KCT via a check payable to Ms. Terrell, for a total of $7, 000. Ms. Terrell cashed the check and provided respondent with a cash payment of $2, 000 for his services. On July 30, 2015, Mr. Taylor promised to provide Mr. Casaday a receipt "showing what you have paid to us as well as the lawyer."[2]

         In return for the fee paid to KCT, Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell gave Mr. Casaday legal advice and prepared motions, a "pro se" writ application, [3] and a memorandum in support of an application for post-conviction relief. Mr. Taylor sent respondent drafts of the memorandum in support of Mr. Casaday's application for post-conviction relief, which respondent reviewed, commented upon, and sent back to Mr. Taylor. Many of respondent's comments were not incorporated into Mr. Taylor's successive drafts; however, because respondent did not consider himself to be Mr. Taylor's supervisor, respondent did not request or require review and approval of a final draft of the document prior to its submission to Mr. Casaday or a court. Respondent did not sign or file any pleadings or memoranda on behalf of Mr. Casaday.

         Ultimately, Mr. Casaday refused to sign the post-conviction relief application prepared by KCT due to its poor quality. On October 16, 2016, Mr. Casaday wrote to respondent directly regarding the agreement that respondent would complete the application for post-conviction relief for the $7, 000 that Mr. Casaday paid. Mr. Casaday asked respondent to meet with him and said that he had been relocated to a closer prison facility. Mr. Casaday wrote, "If you are not going to help me do my post-conviction then just let me know this and return my money to me so I can get someone who could help me." On October 21, 2016, respondent replied to Mr. Casaday, reminding him "that you are a client of C/S [Charles Taylor/Shawna Terrell]." On September 28, 2017, several months after the formal charges were filed in this matter, respondent refunded the sum of $2, 000 to Mr. Casaday.

         Respondent also worked with KCT on a legal matter for Jeremy Daigre. In June 2015, Craig Daigre, Jeremy's father, gave respondent a check for $6, 000. Respondent cashed the check, retained the sum of $2, 000 as his fee, and delivered the remaining funds to Ms. Terrell. In April 2016, Mr. Taylor forwarded to respondent a "Supervisory Writ of Habeas Corpus to Vacate a Prejudicial Illegal and/or Unconstitutional Habitual Offender Multiple Bill Sentence" which Mr. Taylor had prepared on behalf of Mr. Daigre. In August 2016, the trial court denied the motion that Mr. Daigre submitted "pro se" to the court. In September 2017, several months after the formal charges were filed in this matter, respondent filed a motion to reconsider sentence on behalf of Mr. Daigre.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In October 2016, Mr. Casaday filed a complaint against respondent with the ODC. In May 2017, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that his conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 5.4(a) (a lawyer shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer), 5.5(a) (a lawyer shall not practice law in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, or assist another in doing so), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct).

         Respondent answered the formal charges and admitted that he agreed to proofread legal work performed by Mr. Taylor and Ms. Terrell. However, he denied that he entered into a lawyer-client relationship with Mr. Casaday or with Mr. Daigre. He further denied that he acted knowingly or intentionally in facilitating the unauthorized practice of law or in sharing legal fees with nonlawyers, and suggested that "his misconduct, if any, was committed negligently."

         Formal Hearing

         This matter proceeded to a hearing conducted by the hearing committee in October 2017. The ODC called the following witnesses to testify at the hearing: Mr. Casaday, Jeremy Daigre and his father, Craig Daigre, and Ms. Terrell.[4] Respondent testified on his own behalf and on ...


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