METAIRIE — The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has concluded that an attorney originally charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana he received as payment for legal services will not lose his law license.
James Mecca, an attorney who previously worked
in law enforcement, made headlines when he was arrested on Dec. 20, 2013, in St.
Tammany Parish over allegations that he accepted marijuana as
payment for legal services.
Mecca, who runs a solo personal injury and criminal defense practice, was originally charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
On Jan. 6, 2014, the disciplinary board formally charged Mecca
with “violation of the Rule 8.4(b) or the Rules of Professional Conduct
prohibiting the commission of a criminal act, especially one that reflects
adversely on a lawyer’s fitness.”
Many people would assume that such charges would
destroy Mecca’s reputation as a lawyer forever. But Dane Ciolino, legal ethics
expert and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans, thinks Mecca’s
reputation is salvageable.
“He [Mecca] had a lot of mitigating circumstances
where he had substance abuse problems," Ciolino told the Louisiana Record. "People make mistakes and they can move
on from them."
Ciolino said Mecca should be able to rebound from the incident.
"The recommendation from the hearing committee took into account
the mitigating circumstances, and he can certainly recover from this," Ciolino said.
Mecca’s arrest in 2013 was the result of a
sting operation by the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office, in which an officer posed
as a potential client seeking criminal representation for his son. The
investigation was prompted when an informant told the sheriff’s office that he
had allegedly used marijuana to pay Mecca for legal services in the past.
Mecca testified in court that he had been using
alcohol and marijuana to cope with his father’s death in 2011, and stated that
he “had no positive ways to cope with his grief as he had few friends and no
Mecca further testified that he was “extremely
remorseful” for the arrest and the embarrassment it had caused his family and
legal profession. He also said that the arrest was “the best thing to happen to
The District Attorney’s Office of St. Tammany
amended the charges to simple possession of marijuana
-- a misdemeanor; and sentenced Mecca to six months, suspended, in a parish
jail, conditioned on the “successful completion of one year of probation under
the supervision of the Lawyer’s Assistance Program (LAP),” and a $200 fine.
In its decision on Oct. 19, the disciplinary board concluded
that Mecca’s testimony was extremely credible, expressed genuine remorse for
the arrest and was forthright in owning up to his actions. In light of this,
the committee recommended that a deferred one-year suspension is the appropriate
punishment for Mecca, as long as he continues to comply with a Lawyers
Assistance Program-sponsored addiction treatment plan.
The Louisiana Record contacted Michael Pulaski
of the disciplinary board for his comments on the Mecca
case. He indicated that he could not comment on the issue because it is still
in process and working its way through the system.
The board’s recommendation will now head to the
Louisiana Supreme Court, which will make a final decision on the appropriate
discipline for Mecca.