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In re Givens-Harding

Supreme Court of Louisiana

January 14, 2020

IN RE: LOUELLA P. GIVENS-HARDING

          ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Louella P. Givens-Harding, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana but currently on interim suspension.

         FORMAL CHARGES

         In June 2015, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana filed a criminal complaint against respondent in federal court in New Orleans, alleging that she engaged in a Medicare fraud scheme. Respondent was charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud, and paying kickbacks. One year later, respondent was indicted on the same charges, along with a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In August 2017, respondent pleaded guilty to health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1347. The remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement with the Government. On November 28, 2017, respondent was sentenced to serve eighteen months in federal prison. She was ordered to pay $575, 450.07 in restitution to Medicare.

         In light of her conduct, on February 2, 2018, we interimly suspended respondent from the practice of law. In re: Givens-Harding, 18-0055 (La. 2/2/18), 234 So.3d 878.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In February 2018, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent, alleging that her conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct), 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

         After being personally served with the formal charges, respondent failed to answer. Accordingly, the factual allegations contained therein were deemed admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence pursuant to Supreme Court Rule XIX, § 11(E)(3). No formal hearing was held, but the parties were given an opportunity to file with the hearing committee written arguments and documentary evidence on the issue of sanctions. Respondent filed nothing for the hearing committee's consideration.

         The ODC, however, filed a memorandum in support of discipline as well as numerous exhibits for the hearing committee's consideration, including the factual basis for the guilty plea. Therein, respondent admitted that she owned a home health care company, Bayou River Health Systems, Inc., and was employed by Maxima Home Health Agency Corporation. Bayou River and Maxima paid kickbacks, in the form of checks signed by respondent, for the referral of patients to Bayou River and Maxima. Respondent caused Bayou River and Maxima to submit claims for home health services to Medicare beneficiaries. A vast majority of these services were not medically necessary and/or were not provided, or the referrals for the services were obtained through the payment of kickbacks. From 2009 through 2015, Bayou River and Maxima submitted claims to Medicare amounting to more than $537, 000, the vast majority of which were fraudulent, and which resulted in payments of approximately $575, 000 into the bank accounts of Bayou River and Maxima.

         Hearing Committee Report

         After considering the ODC's submission, the hearing committee accepted that the factual allegations contained in the formal charges were deemed admitted upon respondent's failure to file an answer. The committee then made factual findings consistent with the deemed admitted factual allegations. Based on those facts, the committee determined that respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as alleged in the formal charges.

         The committee determined that respondent violated duties owed to the public and the legal system by defrauding Medicare for home health services. She acted knowingly and intentionally, as clearly indicated in the detailed factual basis which was filed in her federal criminal proceeding and which explained her role in the Medicare fraud scheme. Her misconduct caused actual harm to the public, the legal system, and the legal profession by defrauding Medicare of more than half a million dollars and by leading an officer of the court to be convicted of a serious crime. Her actions put her into financial jeopardy and endangered those who suspected or reported her wrongdoing. She showed complete disregard for the federal government and its healthcare program, the patients her company served, and the employees of her company. After considering the ABA's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, the committee determined the baseline sanction is disbarment.

         The committee determined that the following aggravating factors are present: a dishonest or selfish motive, substantial experience in the practice of law (admitted 1990), and illegal conduct. The committee determined that there is no evidence of appreciable mitigating ...


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