IN RE: LAURA J. JOHNSON
ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING
disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the
Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against
respondent, Laura J. Johnson, an attorney licensed to
practice law in Louisiana but currently on interim suspension
for threat of harm to the public. In re: Johnson,
15-1946 (La. 11/12/15), 182 So.3d 37.
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 1979. Between
1985 and 2007, the disciplinary board administered private
discipline to respondent on eight occasions, as follows: (1)
a formal private reprimand in March 1985 for failing to
appear at the sentencing of a criminal client; (2) an
admonition in November 1990 for failing to cooperate and
respond to a written complaint (the Holder matter); (3) an
admonition in November 1990 for failing to cooperate and
respond to a written complaint (the Manausa matter); (4) an
admonition in November 1993 for failing to cooperate and
respond to a written complaint (the Tatum matter); (5) an
admonition in August 1994 for two counts of failing to
cooperate and respond to a written complaint (the Carter and
Jamison matters); (6) an admonition in August 1996 for
failing to comply with the local court rules in representing
a client at a detention hearing; (7) an admonition in August
2003 for representing a client in a juvenile matter without
authority; and (8) an admonition in July 2007 for engaging in
conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in
connection with the signing of a judgment.
1997, we suspended respondent from the practice of law for
one year, with six months deferred, followed by two years of
probation, for failing to refund an advanced payment for
unused travel expenses and failing to cooperate with the ODC
in its investigations by failing to appear for depositions
pursuant to four investigatory subpoenas. In re:
Johnson, 97-0879, 97-0880 (La. 9/26/97), 700 So.2d 1260
("Johnson I"). In 2014, we accepted a
petition for consent discipline and publicly reprimanded
respondent for engaging in conduct constituting a conflict of
interest. In re: Johnson, 14-1942 (La. 10/24/14),
149 So.3d 1233 ("Johnson II").
this backdrop, we now turn to a consideration of the
misconduct at issue in the instant proceeding.
2013, respondent represented Kenneth Stanford, who pleaded
guilty to theft by fraud in Winn Parish. In June 2013, Mr.
Stanford was sentenced to serve five years at hard labor,
suspended, and was placed on four years of supervised
probation with special conditions, including the requirement
that he make restitution in the amount of $36, 265, to be
paid to the Winn Parish District Attorney's Office in
monthly installments of $2, 500 each beginning on August 1,
2013. Thereafter, Mr. Stanford did not timely make all of his
court-ordered restitution payments, and by the summer of
2015, he still owed $24, 565 on his account. A revocation
hearing was set for August 19, 2015.
August 13, 2015, respondent signed a receipt reflecting that
Mr. Stanford had given her $24, 500 for his restitution
obligation. Mr. Stanford, in turn, provided the receipt to
his probation officer. However, Mr. Stanford did not actually
give respondent any money. Later, respondent admitted that
she gave the receipt to Mr. Stanford relying on his promise
that an attorney from Texas would be arriving that day with
the funds. When no funds were delivered to the District
Attorney's Office, Mr. Stanford's probation officer
began making inquiries into the source of the funds allegedly
paid to respondent. Respondent then attempted to have the
August 19threvocation hearing continued, but her
request for a continuance was denied. On the day of the
hearing, respondent asked the trial judge if she could go
back to her office because she was feeling ill. The trial
judge agreed, but respondent did not return to the courtroom
that day, forcing a continuance of the revocation hearing
until September 23, 2015.
August 31, 2015, Mr. Stanford was arrested on a misdemeanor
criminal charge in Jackson Parish. He was held in the Jackson
Parish jail on a detainer for probation violations. The trial
judge found probable cause on the probation violations and
re-set the revocation hearing for September 28, 2015.
the Winn Parish District Attorney's Office had requested
that a formal investigation be opened into the possible
misappropriation of Mr. Stanford's restitution funds. On
September 3, 2015, an officer from the Winn Parish
Sheriff's Department interviewed Mr. Stanford in the
Jackson Parish jail. Mr. Stanford informed the officer that
he had given respondent $24, 500 in cash in $100 bills to pay
his restitution, and in exchange, respondent gave him a
signed receipt. Mr. Stanford could not explain what happened
to the funds after he paid them to respondent, but he
insisted that he should not still be in jail on a probation
September 4, 2015, respondent went to the Winn Parish
Sheriff's Department and confessed that Mr. Stanford had
given her $24, 500 in cash to pay his restitution, but that
she had used the money "inappropriately" and
"could not get it back." Respondent claimed that
Mr. Stanford had no knowledge of what she had done and stated
that she took full responsibility for her actions. At the
conclusion of the interview, respondent was arrested and
booked on a charge of felony theft.
enforcement officers subsequently obtained jail phone
recordings of conversations between respondent, Mr. Stanford,
his wife, Audrea Denise Stanford, which took place from
September 1, 2015 to September 4, 2015. After listening to
the recordings, the officers concluded there was a conspiracy
between the three individuals calculated to secure Mr.
Stanford's release from jail on the probation hold. The
telephone calls revealed to the authorities that respondent
had never actually received $24, 500 from Mr. Stanford, but
that respondent had agreed to turn herself in and
"confess" that she received $24, 500 and converted
the funds without the knowledge or authorization of Mr.
Stanford, all in order to show that Mr. Stanford had complied
with his sentence and therefore should not be held in jail on
a probation hold. Based on the recordings, respondent was
arrested on October 6, 2015 and charged with conspiracy to
commit felony theft, corrupt influencing, filing or
maintaining false public records, and attempted felony theft.
These charges were ultimately dismissed in connection with
respondent's guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of
disturbing the peace.
August 2015, the ODC received a complaint against respondent
from Judge Jacque Derr of the Eighth Judicial District Court
for the Parish of Winn, the judge who presided over Mr.
Stanford's criminal case. In ...