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In re Steger

Supreme Court of Louisiana

May 8, 2019

IN RE: JOHN JULIUS STEGER, IV

          ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM.

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

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         On February 23, 1993, respondent was arrested during Mardi Gras on charges of disturbing the peace and obscenity. Alcohol consumption was involved. Records could no longer be located regarding this arrest.[1]

         On February 18, 2001, respondent was again arrested after having consumed alcohol during Mardi Gras. He was charged with interfering with police and public nudity. The charges were ultimately dismissed.

         On October 3, 2002, respondent was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, hit and run driving, and failure to use a seatbelt. Respondent had consumed alcohol and the prescription sleep aid Ambien. He was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of reckless operation of a vehicle under the provisions of La. Code Crim. P. art. 894.

         On March 8, 2003, after consuming alcohol and Ambien, respondent was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated and exceeding the speed limit. He was permitted to enter a guilty plea to a reduced charge of reckless operation of a vehicle under the provisions of La. Code Crim. P. art. 894.

         On June 28, 2003, respondent was arrested and charged with simple battery. The incident stemmed from an argument with his girlfriend at their apartment. The matter was ultimately dismissed without prosecution.

         None of the above incidents were reported to the ODC by respondent or any prosecuting authority in the State of Louisiana.

         On November 4, 2013, respondent consumed wine with dinner and later took an Ambien "to help him sleep." He continued to drink wine thereafter and estimates that he drank two bottles of wine that evening. At some point, respondent got into his car and drove it into a tree, causing him to hit his head on the windshield. Emergency medical services were called to the scene and respondent was taken to the emergency room. While there, respondent was fitted with a neck brace, which he proceeded to remove. As a nurse attempted to restrain him and put the neck brace back on, he bit the nurse, leading to a charge of battery.[2] Respondent's blood alcohol level at the time registered at .2%, more than two and a half times the legal limit. Respondent was arrested and released.

         The following day, on November 5, 2013, respondent consumed more wine, took another Ambien, and blacked out. He then entered his vehicle and commenced driving. Respondent was later arrested for driving erratically. His blood alcohol level at the time registered at .151%, nearly twice the legal limit.[3]

         It was only after these two final incidents in successive days that the matter was reported to the ODC by the prosecuting authority.

         Respondent submitted to an inpatient evaluation at the Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services. The evaluation results, which were not available to the ODC until July 30, 2015, reflect that respondent suffered from alcohol dependence. The medical professionals at Pine Grove indicated that they were not confident in respondent's ability to meet the responsibilities of a practicing attorney and recommended that he enter a ninety-day residential treatment program.

         As of April 2016, respondent had not participated in an inpatient treatment program, despite the ODC urging him to do so. Instead, he chose to participate in an intensive outpatient program with Addiction Recovery Resources of New Orleans.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In September 2016, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent. The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct) and 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer). Respondent answered the formal charges and admitted only some misconduct.

         Prior to a formal hearing in this matter, respondent filed into the record a document styled "Stipulations by Respondent," wherein he stipulated as follows:

1. Respondent has received and reviewed all of the exhibits proposed to be introduced into the hearing of this matter by the ODC and stipulates as to their admissibility and entry into evidence in this proceeding.
2. Respondent has reviewed and hereby stipulates to all of the factual allegations contained in the formal charges and to the Rules of Professional Conduct violations set forth therein.
3. Respondent has committed to entry into an inpatient treatment program during May 2017 in compliance with the recommendations of the multi-disciplinary professionals at both Pine Grove and Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center.

         Respondent entered into a treatment program at Palmetto and successfully completed the ninety-day program in September 2017. On September 11, 2017, he executed a five-year recovery agreement with the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program ("JLAP"). Respondent is currently in full compliance with the agreement.

         Formal Hearing

         This matter proceeded to a hearing conducted by the hearing committee in April 2018. Both respondent and the ODC introduced documentary evidence. The ODC called no witnesses to testify at the hearing. Respondent called the following witnesses: attorneys Kurt Garcia and Christine DeSue, who have a friendship and business relationship with respondent; William Arendell, LCSW, who works in the areas of addiction and trauma; and Buddy ...


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