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In re Abel

Supreme Court of Louisiana

November 19, 2019

IN RE: DANIEL G. ABEL

          ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Daniel G. Abel, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, but currently on interim suspension for threat of harm to the public. In re: Abel, 14-2239 (La. 11/6/14), 150 So.3d 887.

         FORMAL CHARGES

         Count I

         In June 2016, Veronica Gordon retained respondent to represent her in an adoption matter. At the time, respondent was interimly suspended and had been so since November 2014; however, Ms. Gordon was not aware of this fact. At all relevant times, respondent held himself out to be a licensed attorney and he never advised his client that he had been suspended from practice. Respondent quoted Ms. Gordon a fixed fee of $4, 000 for the representation, which sum she wire transferred to a bank account that respondent designated and identified as his account.

         Thereafter, respondent and another attorney, Matthew McCarthy, met with Ms. Gordon at her home and both provided legal advice concerning the adoption. Like Ms. Gordon, Mr. McCarthy was not aware that respondent had been suspended. Mr. McCarthy also did not know that Ms. Gordon had previously paid a fee to respondent for his services.

         In March 2018, after learning of respondent's suspension, Ms. Gordon filed a complaint against respondent with the ODC.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 5.5 (engaging in the unauthorized practice of law).

         Count II

         In March 2013, Geoffrey Lutz retained respondent to represent the 929 Development Group, LLC in litigation filed against the LLC in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The intended scope of the representation included defense of the plaintiffs' claims against the LLC and filing a reconventional demand against the plaintiffs on behalf of the LLC. Shortly after the representation commenced, the LLC paid respondent $20, 000, intended as an advance deposit against hourly fees to be earned in the future.[1]

         The case concluded by consent judgment in September 2013. On August 10, 2015, Mr. Lutz sent respondent an e-mail asking for an accounting of fees. Respondent did not respond. Consequently, on August 25, 2015, Mr. Lutz filed a disciplinary complaint seeking an accounting of earned fees and a refund of any unearned fees from the advanced retainer. Respondent answered the complaint but he did not address the "failure to account" allegations of the complaint, or alternatively, provide Mr. Lutz with an accounting of the paid retainer.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 1.15 (safekeeping property of clients or third persons).

         Count III

         In May 2006, attorney Gregory Guth filed suit on his own behalf against an electrical contractor in Orleans Parish Civil District Court for allegedly faulty electrical work performed at Mr. Guth's home. Respondent represented the defendant. In September 2006, after issue was joined, Mr. Guth filed interrogatories and a motion for production of documents. Respondent failed to respond to this discovery despite the filing of a motion to compel.

         By February 2008, respondent still had not answered Mr. Guth's discovery requests, causing Mr. Guth to file a second motion to compel. In April 2008, following a show cause hearing, respondent was sanctioned by the court, held in contempt, and ordered to pay $500 in attorney's fees to Mr. Guth. Nevertheless, respondent failed to provide the discovery or to pay the attorney's fees as ordered, requiring Mr. Guth to file a third motion to compel in January 2009. The motion to compel was set for a show cause hearing in March 2009, but it was later continued without date.

         In April 2010, Mr. Guth filed a motion for contempt and sanctions which was fixed for hearing in June 2010. The day before the hearing, respondent finally filed discovery responses into the record - more than four years after Mr. Guth originally filed the discovery requests.

         Respondent ultimately paid the $500 in attorney's fees ordered by the trial court, although not in a timely fashion. Furthermore, he failed to supplement the discovery requests as later ordered by the court.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 3.2 (a lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of the client), 3.4(c) (knowing disobedience of an obligation under the rules of a tribunal), and 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

         Count IV

         Carr and Associates was a "public adjusting" firm that represented homeowners after Hurricane Katrina by negotiating their property damage claims directly with their casualty insurers. In 2006, the Louisiana State Bar Association ("LSBA") sued the company in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, claiming it was unlawfully engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The LSBA asked the court to enjoin the company from doing business in the State of Louisiana.

         Earl Carr, the company's owner, retained respondent to defend the company in the injunction action. Following a hearing, the trial court issued the requested preliminary injunction. Mr. Carr instructed respondent to appeal the trial court's decision, but respondent failed to do so timely, and ultimately the preliminary injunction ...


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