Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court opinion which permanently disbarred a lawyer who had been disbarred in Louisiana but worked as in house counsel for WorldCom after he was disbarred. The case is In re: James David Turnage, No. 12-B-2008 (November 16, 2012). The opinion here: http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2012/12B2008.pc.pdf.
According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted to practice in Louisiana in 1993. He was employed by WorldCom in a non-attorney position in Mississippi in 1999 and was promoted to an attorney position in 2001. He was disbarred in Louisiana in September 2002 for abandoning clients’ legal matters, failing to communicate with clients regarding the status of their cases, and commingling and converting a substantial amount of client and third-party funds. The lawyer failed to inform WorldCom of his disbarment and continued to work there as an attorney. WorldCom was later acquired by Verizon. The lawyer was promoted to a higher attorney position in August 2003 and to a higher attorney position in February 2007. Notwithstanding the fact that he was disbarred in Louisiana, the lawyer continued to work as in-house counsel for Verizon until he was terminated in February 2011.
Louisiana Bar discipline charges were filed in September 2011 alleging that the lawyer’s conduct by continuing to act as a lawyer after his disbarment violated Louisiana Bar Rules 1.4 (failure to communicate with a client), 4.1 (truthfulness in statements to others), 5.5(a) (engaging in the unauthorized practice of law), and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation). A hearing committee found that all of the facts set forth in the formal charges were deemed admitted and proven that additional documentary evidence submitted also supported the deemed admitted facts. The Louisiana hearing committee found that the lawyer violated the alleged Bar Rules and that the lawyer’s misconduct was intentional and conscious and resulted in significant and substantial injury and recommended that the lawyer be permanently disbarred.
After review, the Louisiana disciplinary board confirmed that the factual allegations were deemed admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence and that the lawyer violated the alleged Bar Rules. The board also determined that the lawyer knowingly and intentionally violated duties owed to his employer, the legal system, and the legal profession, and caused injury since the work he performed as an attorney on behalf of his employer could be called into question. The board further determined that the baseline sanction was disbarment. The board found aggravating factors of prior disciplinary offenses and a dishonest or selfish motive, found no mitigating factors, and recommended that the lawyer be permanently disbarred and be assessed with the costs of the proceedings. There were no objections to the disciplinary board’s recommendation was filed. The Supreme Court of Louisiana agreed with the board’s findings and recommendations, observed that the lawyer’s failure to respect the authority of the court clearly demonstrated a lack of fitness to engage in the practice of law, and permanently disbarred the lawyer.
Bottom line: don’t practice law while you are disbarred. Practicing law without a license is a third degree felony in the State of Florida.
Be careful out there!