IN RE: MICHAEL T. BELL
ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING.
disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the
Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against
respondent, Michael T. Bell, 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 2001. In
2013, this court accepted a petition for consent discipline
in which respondent stipulated that he had failed to
communicate with a client and failed to properly terminate a
client's representation. For this misconduct, respondent
was suspended from the practice of law for one year and one
day, with all but one year deferred. In re: Bell,
13-2491 (La. 11/22/13), 129 So.3d 521. In 2016, this court
accepted a petition for consent discipline in which
respondent stipulated that he had engaged in conduct
constituting a conflict of interest. For this misconduct,
respondent was publicly reprimanded. In re: Bell,
16-0544 (La. 4/22/16), 192 So.3d 735.
this backdrop, we now turn to a consideration of the
misconduct at issue in the instant proceeding.
September 2015, respondent was hired to represent Beverly
Bailey in a claim for injuries she sustained following a slip
and fall accident at a Walmart store. Shortly thereafter,
respondent sent Mrs. Bailey to Capitol Spine and
Rehabilitation Clinic ("the clinic") for treatment.
He also gave her an $800 loan.
the next two years, Mrs. Bailey had difficulty communicating
with respondent regarding her case. In November 2017, Mrs.
Bailey sought assistance from attorney John McKay. Mr. McKay
contacted the Walmart claims department and learned that the
case had settled in June 2016 for $16, 000. Upon receiving a
copy of the check from Walmart, Mr. McKay noted that the
check was made payable to "Beverly Baily & Leroy
Baily, indiv & as husb & wife & the Law Offices
of Michael T Bell LLC." However, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey were
not aware of the settlement, and neither of them signed the
check or received any settlement proceeds therefrom.
sent copies of the settlement check along with known
signatures of Mrs. Bailey, Leon Bailey (her husband), and
Michael Bell to a board certified document examiner, Mary Ann
Sherry. Ms. Sherry determined that the signatures on the back
of the check did not belong to Beverly Bailey or Leon Bailey.
Walmart claims record revealed that respondent failed to
exercise due diligence in the handling of Mrs. Bailey's
claim. Although Mrs. Bailey was transported by ambulance to a
hospital following her accident, respondent failed to obtain
any medical information from the hospital and submit it to
December 2017, Mrs. Bailey filed a complaint against
respondent with the ODC. In January and February 2018, the
ODC sent three notices of the complaint to respondent.
Respondent failed to respond to the complaint, necessitating
the issuance of a subpoena to obtain his sworn statement.
April 2018, respondent submitted a response to the complaint,
alleging that Mrs. Bailey was due no money from the
settlement because he had loaned her $4, 500, of which $3,
700 was in cash. However, in writing and under oath, Mrs.
Bailey stated that respondent loaned her only $800 and did
not give her any cash. In May 2018, the ODC sent two letters
to respondent requesting additional information in response
to the complaint as well as a copy of Mrs. Bailey's file.
When he failed to comply with either request, the ODC issued
a second subpoena to respondent.
24, 2018, respondent appeared at the ODC's offices for a
sworn statement. Therein, respondent admitted that he had
acquired all the necessary medical release forms from Mrs.
Bailey but failed to request her medical records and bills
from the hospital and ambulance service. As a result, ...