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In re Bell

Supreme Court of Louisiana

November 5, 2019

IN RE: MICHAEL T. BELL

          ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING.

          PER CURIAM.

         This 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.

         PRIOR DISCIPLINARY HISTORY

         Before 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.

         Against this backdrop, we now turn to a consideration of the misconduct at issue in the instant proceeding.

         FORMAL CHARGES

         In 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.

         Over 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."[1] However, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey were not aware of the settlement, and neither of them signed the check or received any settlement proceeds therefrom.

         The ODC 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.

         The 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 Walmart.

         In 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.

         In 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.

         On July 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, ...


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