Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which suspended a lawyer after he was convicted of misdemeanor battery for chest bumping a criminal prosecutor. The disciplinary case is: In Re: Felix DeJean, IV, NO. 2018-B-133 (1/30/18) and the link to the case is here: http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2019/18-1333.B.OPN.pdf
According to the opinion, the incident occurred in March 2015 after a conference in a criminal case in the judge’s chambers. The criminal prosecutor alleged that the lawyer exchanged words with him, physically confronted him, and “chest bumped” him. The lawyer claimed that the prosecutor started the altercation and that he was acting in self-defense.
The incident led to a criminal charge of simple battery against the lawyer. The prosecutor testified at the trial, along with several other witnesses, including the judge, the judicial assistant, and the court reporter. The lawyer was found guilty in July 2016 and received a suspended jail sentence along with 18 months of supervised probation that required him to complete an anger management program. Before the criminal trial, the lawyer had filed a civil suit for damages against the prosecutor related the incident and, according to the opinion, that lawsuit was still pending.
A Louisiana disciplinary hearing committee recommended a six-month suspension; however, after review, the Louisiana disciplinary board had recommended the year-and-a-day suspension. The Supreme Court opinion suspended the lawyer for a year and a day and the length of the suspension means that the lawyer will be required to apply for reinstatement and show his fitness to practice after the suspension is completed.
The opinion found that the lawyer violated Louisiana Bar Rules which prohibit the commission a criminal acts that reflect adversely on a lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The opinion also stated that the evidence supported the findings of a violation of the Louisiana Bar Rules and, although the lawyer’s conduct “caused no actual physical harm, it did impair the public reputation of the profession and the judicial system.”
The opinion further noted that this was the third time that the lawyer had been accused of violating the disciplinary rules due to overly aggressive or physically abusive behavior. The lawyer’s prior disciplinary history is as follows: he consented to a two-year probation in 2006 for behavior caused by mental health issues and previous use of marijuana and alcohol, he was twice admonished by the disciplinary board in 2009 for failing to properly address fee disputes with clients, he agreed to a public reprimand in 2010 for relying on the “false representations of his client and (failing) to verify the identity of the parties who appeared before him” for a “notarial renunciation” and the lawyer received a public reprimand in 2013 for acting in an abusive and threatening manner during a settlement conference.
Bottom line: This is another (somewhat strange) disciplinary case involving a lawyer who was disciplined for engaging in overly aggressive behavior, in this case, an unwanted chest bump and a criminal battery conviction. Chest bumps may now be acceptable at sports events or on other occasions, but not as unwanted touching in a courthouse. Things we learned in kindergarten…
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
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