STEPHENS,  EDDIE L.
97-DB-073 (10/01/1998) Disbarment

LOUISIANA ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD

NUMBER 97-DB-073

IN RE: EDDIE L. STEPHENS

RECOMMENDATION TO THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT

   This is a disciplinary proceeding instituted in November, 1997, against Eddie L. Stephens of Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Hearing Committee No. 5 recommended that Mr. Stephens be disbarred from the practice of law.  We agree.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

   Respondent received service of the formal charges by certified mail on November 24, 1997. He did not file an answer or seek an extension.  On December 29, 1997, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a motion to declare the factual allegations contained in the formal charges deemed admitted by clear and convincing evidence.  The Hearing Committee granted the motion on January 8, 1998 and Respondent was given twenty days from the mailing of the order to show good cause why the order should not be revoked. Respondent did not file a motion to seeking to revoke the deemed admitted order and did nor file written arguments or submit evidence as to the sanction issue.  On February12, 1998, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed its submission on the issue of sanctions.

   Hearing Committee No. 5, consisting of Charles N. Harper, Chairman, Fr. Peter J.A. Cook, Public Member, and Richard A. Bailey, Lawyer Member, convened to consider the imposition of sanctions.  The Hearing Committee observed that Respondent was admitted to the practice of law in 1984 and, since that time, has been the subject of two public disciplinary actions which resulted in his suspension twice from the practice of law.1  The Committee further noted that Respondent is still suspended because he has failed or neglected  to seek reinstatement. 

   The Hearing Committee rendered its thorough, comprehensive, and well reasoned report on March 16, 1998 recommending that Respondent be disbarred.  A panel of the Disciplinary Board reviewed this matter on May 22, 1998.  Respondent neither attended oral argument nor filed a brief objecting to the Hearing Committee's report sent to him by the Board Administrator.

FORMAL CHARGES

   The formal charges comprise fifteen counts.  Count I alleges that in 1992, Respondent was hired to represent Dawn Dukes in connection with an automobile accident.  When Respondent settled the case in June 1993, he withheld money to pay a medical bill, yet failed, refused and neglected to do so, thereby commingling and converting those funds.  Respondent also failed, refused and neglected to communicate with his client concerning this matter.  It is alleged that this conduct violates the Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4,1.15 and 8.4(a)(b) and (c).  Count II alleges that in connection with the investigation of the complaint of Ms. Dukes, Respondent failed to cooperate with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, thereby violating Rules 8.1(c) and 8.4(a)(g).

   Count III alleges that Respondent was retained to represent John Wilson in a worker's compensation case against the City of Bunkie.  Mr. Wilson lost at the hearing, but Respondent filed an appeal, which he later abandoned.  As a result, the appeal was dismissed.  Respondent further failed to communicate with his client, thereby violating Rules 1.1(a), 1.3, 1.4 and  8.4(a) and (c). 

   Count IV alleges that Respondent was hired to represent Frankie Alexander in a bankruptcy.  Although Respondent was paid approximately $200-300 in fees, he failed to take any action on behalf of his client and further failed to return the unearned fee, thereby violating Rules1.1(a), 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16 (d) and 8.4 (a) and (c).  Count V alleges that in connection with the investigation of the complaint of Mr. Alexander, Respondent failed to cooperate with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, thereby violating Rules 8.1(c) and 8.4(a)(g).

   Count VI alleges that Respondent represented Mary Wright in November 1993 in connection with a criminal matter filed in Calcasieu Parish.  Respondent engaged in the unauthorized practice of law as he was currently under suspension effective October 29, 1993, thereby violating Rules 5.5 (a) and 8.4 (a) (b) and (c).

   Counts VII and VIII allege that Brenda Paul hired Respondent to file for personal bankruptcy.  Respondent received $125 up front as filing costs and $500 in attorneys= fees.  Respondent failed, refused, and neglected to file a petition for bankruptcy.  Respondent enticed the complainant to pay an additional $125 filing fee; bankruptcy proceedings were never filed.  Respondent failed, refused, and neglected to communicate with Ms. Paul and did not explain to her why he did not file the bankruptcy petition.  Additionally, Respondent refused to respond to Ms. Paul's complaint and ignored the subpoena served upon him by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, thereby violating of 1.1(a), 1.3, 1.4, 8.4 (a) (c), 1.5,1.16 (d), 8.1 (c) and  8.4 (a)(g).

Counts IX and X allege that while representing Helen Brown in a personal injury matter, Respondent guaranteed payment of her medical bills to the medical provider out of any settlement obtained.  When Respondent settled the case, he failed to pay the medical bills in the amount of $2,065, thereby commingled and converted those funds.  Ms. Brown never received a settlement sheet and Respondent tendered her portion of the settlement to her in cash.  In addition, Respondent failed to cooperate in the investigation of this matter thereby violating Rules 1.5, 8.4(a)(b)(c)(g) and 8.1(c).

   Count XI alleges that Jacqueline  McNeely retained Respondent in June 1993 to open a succession for her grandmother.  A friend of Ms. McNeely's paid Respondent $650 for prepayment of costs and attorneys' fees for filing the succession.  Respondent failed to open the succession, neglected the matter, failed to return the unearned fee and failed to communicate with his client, thereby violating Rules 1.1(a), 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16(d) and 8.4 (a)(c).

   Count XIII alleges that Velma Mingo retained Respondent in 1997 for the criminal representation of her sons and payed him a fee for that representation.  The representation occurred while Respondent was under suspension.  Respondent failed to perform the work, but did contact Hon. James Best, Judge, 18th Judicial District Court, in connection with the case, leading to Judge Best's reduction of the defendants' bond.  The events occurred at a time when Respondent was still suspended from the practice of law thereby violating Rules 1.3, 1.5, 5.5 and 8.4 (a) (b) (c).

   Count XIV alleges that Marvin E. Donaldson retained Respondent on November 26, 1996 and paid him a total fee of $1,000 in connection with criminal representation of a third DWI offense.  Respondent accepted the representation and fees at a time when he was suspended from the practice of law.  Respondent did not return the funds and failed, refused, and neglected to return phone calls directed to Respondent by his client, thereby violating Rules 1.3, 1.5, 5.5 and 8.4 (a) (b) (c).

Count XV alleges that Respondent engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by representing Ron Rodney in Point Coupee Parish.  Respondent represented Mr. Rodney from November 9, 1993 through trial.  The representation and trial occurred during the time Respondent was suspended from the practice of law. 

Additionally Respondent engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by representing Clemone Lanieu in a West Baton Rouge Parish criminal proceeding from January 1997 through trial.  This representation and trial also took place at a time when Respondent was suspended from the practice of law, thereby violating Rules 5.5 and 8.4 (a) (b) (c).

FINDINGS OF THE HEARING COMMITTEE

   The Hearing Committee found that there was ample documentation in the record to support findings of misconduct on each of the charges as alleged by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.2  The recommendation of the Hearing Committee authored by the Chairman Charles N. Harper is so excellent, thorough, and well- written that the Board adopts the recommendation of as its own.  We set forth below the Hearing Committee's concise summation of the evidence and proceedings:

   In Counts I and II, the complaining party is Dawn Dukes.  Ms. Dukes was involved in an automobile accident on August 25, 1992 and retained Respondent to represent her.  The Respondent settled the claim in June 1993 for the sum of $7,025.  The disbursement sheet indicates that the Respondent withheld the sum of $2,000 to pay the Chiropractic Clinic of Dr. Connie Bryant.  However, the chiropractic bill was never paid.

   In Counts III, the complaining party is John Wilson.  Mr. Wilson hired Respondent to represent him in a worker's compensation case against the City of Bunkie.  The City prevailed at the worker's compensation hearing but Mr. Wilson took an appeal.  The appeal was abandoned by Respondent in October 1992 and was dismissed because of his neglect.  The Respondent failed to notify Mr. Wilson and take any action to protect his appeal rights.  The Respondent claims he tried to call Mr. Wilson to tell him of the abandonment but Mr. Wilson denies this.  The record contains multiple telephone bills showing attempts by Mr. Wilson to contact the Respondent.

   In Counts IV and V, the complaining party is Frankie Alexander.  Mr. Alexander hired the Respondent to file for bankruptcy.  The Respondent was paid between $200 and $300 but never filed any pleadings on behalf of his client.  The Respondent has failed to return the unearned fee.  The Respondent has failed to respond to the subpoena issued in connection with this disciplinary matter.

   In Count VI, the complaining party is Robert C. McCorquedole, Assistant District Attorney for Calcasieu Parish.  Mr. McCorquedale indicates that Respondent represented a defendant named Mary Wright in Calcasieu Parish before the Honorable Alcede J. Gray in Docket No. 12187-93 on November 5, 1993 in Criminal Proceedings.  At this time, the Respondent was suspended from the practice of law.

   In Counts VII and VIII, the complaining party is Brenda M. Paul.  Ms. Paul hired Respondent to file personal bankruptcy.  The Respondent was paid the sum of $125 as a filing cost and $500 in attorney's fees.  The bankruptcy petition was never filed.  Later, following repeated phone calls, the Respondent obtained an additional $125 filing fee for a total receipt of $800.  No bankruptcy pleadings were ever filed on behalf of the client.  The Respondent was subpoenaed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to explain the underlying factual circumstances but failed to honor the subpoena.

   In Counts IX and X, the complaining party is Dr. John Spencer.  The Respondent represented Helen Brown in connection with a personal injury case.  Dr. Spencer provided chiropractic care for Helen Brown and the Respondent guaranteed payment out of the settlement.  Dr. Spencer's bill in the sum of $2,065 was never paid after the case settled.  Ms. Brown was never provided with a settlement disbursement sheet and in fact was handed her portion of the settlement proceeds in cash by the Respondent.  No response to the complaint was made by the Respondent.  A subpoena was served upon the Respondent but he failed to honor the subpoena in connection with this Disciplinary investigation.

   In Count XI, the complaining party is Jacqueline McKneeley.  Ms. McKneeley hired the Respondent in June 1993 to open a succession for her grandmother.  The Respondent was paid $650 in prepayment of costs and attorney's fees for the filing of the succession.  The Respondent never opened the succession and failed to return the unearned fee.

   In Count XII, the complaining party is Elliot Joseph Clark.  Mr. Clark hired Respondent to represent him in a domestic matter.  The Respondent failed to communicate in a timely fashion and Mr. Clark ultimately terminated his representation requesting a refund of the $1,000 advance fee paid by Mr. Clark to Respondent.  The Respondent refused to return the unearned fee.

   In Count XIII, the complaining party is Velma Mingo.  Ms. Mingo hired the Respondent and paid him a fee for criminal representation of her two sons during the year 1997 while Respondent was under suspension.  The Honorable James L. Best, Judge of the 18th Judicial District Court, confirms that the Respondent contacted him, as counsel for Ms. Mingo's sons to obtain a bond reduction.

   In Count XIV, the complainant is Marvin E. Donaldson.  Mr. Donaldson hired the Respondent on November 27, 1996 and paid hi a total fee of $1,000 in connection with a criminal representation for a felony DWI charge.  The Respondent accepted the fee and representation at a time when he was suspended from the practice of law.

   In Count XV, the complaining party is Judge James L. Best of the 18th Judicial District Court.  He reported the representation in connection with the Mingo matter, (Count XIII above).  Additionally Judge Best also reported that his research developed that the Respondent engaged in the representation in Point Coupee Parish under Bill No. 58,487 F involving a criminal defendant by the name of Ron Rodney.  The Respondent represented Mr. Rodney from November 9, 1993 through the jury trial before Judge Sarah Mulmore in the 18th Judicial District Court.  This representation in trial took place at a time when the Respondent was suspended from the practice of law.  Additionally, more recently, the Respondent represented Clemone Lanieu in West Baton Rouge Parish criminal proceedings bearing Docket No. 952637 in January 1997 including a jury trial.  Once again, the Respondent was suspended from the practice of law during the period of this representation.

Thus, the Hearing Committee determined that the only issue before it was the appropriate sanction to be imposed.  It determined that, pursuant to ABA Sanctions 4.11, 4.411, 5.11(b) and 6.21, 7.1, and 8.1, the baseline sanction for all of Respondent's misconduct is disbarment.  The Hearing Committee found the following aggravating factors to be present: (1) prior disciplinary offenses (two suspensions); (2) dishonest or selfish motive; (3) a pattern of misconduct; (4) multiple offenses, and (5) bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceedings.

   The Hearing Committee did not find the presence of any mitigating factors and recommended disbarment as the appropriate sanction to be imposed.

APPLICATION OF FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED IN IMPOSING SANCTIONS

   Louisiana Supreme Court Rule XIX '10(C) states that in imposing a sanction after a finding of lawyer misconduct, the court or board shall consider the following factors:

   (1)   whether the lawyer has violated a duty owed to a client, to the public, to the legal system, or to the profession;

   (2)   whether the lawyer acted intentionally, knowingly, or negligently;

   (3)   the amount of actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer's misconduct; and

   (4)   the existence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.

   The  Board concurs in the findings of the Hearing Committee that Respondent is guilty of the misconduct set forth in the formal charges and the charges have been proven by clear and convincing evidence.  The Board finds that Respondent has violated duties owed to the legal system, the profession, and the public and has knowingly engaged in deliberate and intentional misconduct.

   The Board finds the following aggravating circumstances to be present: prior discipline; dishonest or selfish motive; a pattern of misconduct3; multiple offenses; substantial experience in the practice of law;  bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceedings;  indifference to making restitution; and refusal to acknowledge wrongful nature of the conduct. See A.B.A. Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, '9.22 (1991).

   The Hearing Committee found no mitigating factors.  The Board also finds that Respondent has not established any factors in mitigation in accordance with A.B.A. Standards '9.32.

RECOMMENDATION

   In light of the numerous charges of misconduct against Respondent, all of which were proven, and the manifest aggravating factors, the Disciplinary Board recommends that Eddie L. Stephens be disbarred from the practice of law.  The Disciplinary Board further recommends that Respondent be assessed with all costs and expenses of these proceedings, with legal interest to commence running thirty days from the date of finality of the court judgment until paid.

LOUISIANA ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD

Homer Ed Barousse, Jr.

John G. Beckwith, Sr.

Donald R. Brown E. J. Champagne

Sibal Suarez Holt

Robert A. Kutcher

Robert E. Leake, Jr.

Joseph L. Shea, Jr.

By: DAVID R. FROHN

FOR THE ADJUDICATIVE COMMITTEE


1. See In re: Stephens, 624 So.2d 903 (La. 1993)(one-year suspension for commingling and conversion of client funds); In re: Stephens, 94-1924 (La. 11/18/94); 645 So.2d 1133 (eighteen-month suspension for failure to communicate and notarizing forged affidavit).

 2.  The Hearing Committee noted that during the course of Respondent's suspensions, multiple disciplinary complaints have been pending against him, which the Office of Disciplinary Counsel "stayed" pending reactivation when the suspended attorney sought reinstatement to the practice of law.  Respondent never sought reinstatement.  As a result of recent complaints involving Respondent's engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, together with a change in the policy of  the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, all of the pending complaints against Respondent were  reactivated.

3.    Disciplinary Counsel Exhibit No. 28 contains a copy of a deposition of Respondent's brother, Joseph Stevens, taken on April 21, 1997 in the Baton Rouge offices of the law firm of Breazeale, Sachse, and Wilson.  Respondent participated in the deposition and represented his brother in connection with a homeowner's insurance claim against American Security Insurance.  The exhibit is another example of Respondent's continued practice of law while on suspension and his flagrant disregard for the rules of the profession.

8.4(b), 8.4(c);8.4(g),1.3, 1.4,1.15 and 8.4(a), 8.4(b) and 8.4(c). 8.1(c) and 8.4(g). 1.1(a), 1.5, 1.16(d)