STEPHENS, EDDIE L.
91-DB-043 SUSPENSION 

DISCIPLINARY BOARD LOUISIANA STATE BAR ASSOCIATION

NUMBER: 91-DB-043

IN RE: EDDIE L. STEPHENS

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE SUPREME COURT

This is a disciplinary proceeding based upon formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel against Eddie L. Stephens. Hearing Committee One received the evidence and heard testimony in the matter.  The members of that committee agreed upon the facts established at the hearing, but disagreed upon the discipline warranted by those facts.  Two members of the committee recommended that Stephens be suspended from the practice of law for one year and one day, with readmittance conditioned upon full restitution to all injured parties.  A third member recommended a two year suspension, with the same conditions of full restitution.

The Board agrees with and recommends a suspension of one year and one day, with a requirement of full restitution to all injured parties prior to reinstatement.  The Board further recommends that Stephens be ordered to attend three additional hours of CLE coursework in the ethics of solo practice and office management and that he be required to provide proof of his attendance to Disciplinary Counsel prior to his reinstatement.

Hearing Committee One found that Stephens had commingled and converted funds belonging to his clients in the settlement of two separate personal injury lawsuits.  He also had not, at the time of the settlements, established a trust account.  Though he made a dilatory attempt at restitution, it was only after disciplinary proceedings had been instituted and he still has not fully repaid the money he converted.

The hearing committee found that Stephens knew or should have known that he was dealing improperly with the client's property and thus causing injury to the clients.  By not promptly paying the medical bills, he knew or should have known that he was also causing injury to third parties.

The committee found the following aggravating factors: a dishonest or selfish motive; a refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct; vulnerable victims; and an indifference to making restitution.  In mitigation the committee found that Stephens had no prior disciplinary record; a partial restitution had been made, though somewhat belatedly; Stephens was inexperienced; and there was an inordinate delay in the disciplinary process through no fault of Stephens'.

The committee then agreed that the baseline discipline in such matters under A.B.A. Standard 4.12 is suspension.  They disagreed, however, on the length of time appropriate for such a suspension.

It is the opinion of the Board that a suspension of one year and one day, which requires the attorney to apply for reinstatement, is sufficient in this matter.  The Board also believes that Stephens would benefit greatly from three hours of additional CLE coursework emphasing the ethics of solo practice and law office management.  This coursework should be in addition to the fifteen hour requirement established by the Louisiana State Bar Association.  The hearing committee is in the best position to evaluate the credibility and testimony of the witnesses and, though Stephens' appearance before this board to argue in mitigation is considered, the Board is of the opinion that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, thus arguing for a substantial suspension.  However, the Board feels that a two year suspension would be harsh indeed.  A suspension of one year and one day is consistent with prior discipline in similar matters and the condition placed on Stephens' reinstatement, that he take continuing legal education courses with an emphasis on the ethics of solo practice and law office ,management. is sufficient to protect the public in the future.  Stephens has already established a trust account and taken steps to assure that his office staff is better managed.  The courses will support his intentions to correct the problem.

Accordingly, the Board respectfully recommends that Eddie L. Stephens be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year and one day, with his reinstatement conditioned upon his providing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel with proof of attendance at three hours of additional continuing legal education courses in the ethics of solo practice and law office management and, further, that he provide full restitution to all injured parties. Stephens should also be required to pay all costs of these proceedings.

Respectfully submitted,

Homer Ed Barousse, Jr.

L. R. Brammer, Jr.

Robert M. Contois, Jr.

Nils R. Douglas

Orlando N. Hamilton, Jr.

Lila T. Hogan

Sibal S. Holt

T. Haller Jackson, III

Edmund Mc Collam

Dr. Clifton R. Tennison

John J. Uhl

BY:GREGORY F. GAMBEL

FOR THE BOAR

Thomas W. Sanders - Disagree.