NEW ORLEANS – In a recent disciplinary matter, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) recommended that attorney James E. Moorman III be suspended for three years due to professional misconduct.
The ODC discipline request is the result of an investigation that found Moorman violated the following rules of professional conduct as defined by the state: safekeeping of property, terminating representation, diligence, conduct prejudicial to administration of justice, and dishonest and fraudulent behavior.
The ODC filed 11 formal charges against Moorman on Dec. 22, 2015, and Moorman filed a response on Jan. 18. He acknowledged misconduct to 10 of the violations and a hearing was held June 14.
The committee heard testimony from legal professionals attesting to his integrity and skill as an attorney prior to an episode of depression that led to five months of inpatient treatment in 2013. Complaints brought to ODC, which led to the formal charges, took place in the months leading up to Moorman’s admittance for treatment. During his hospitalization, Moorman contacted the Lawyer’s Assistance Program and surrendered his law license.
Moorman has worked as a paralegal since leaving the treatment center. Two of his employers testified that they knew of his treatment for depression and chose to work with him regardless, that he was diligent and hardworking, and did not exhibit the behavior they had witnessed prior to his treatment in 2013. Former clients testified that he was a caring and committed lawyer who worked hard for them. Professional colleagues vouched for his good character and skill as an attorney.
The ODC refers to guidelines set by Louisiana Supreme Court (LASC) Rule XIX, Section 10(c) for determining discipline: whether or not the attorney violated a duty to a client, the public, the legal system or the profession; whether the attorney acted knowingly or intentionally; the amount of actual or potential injury caused by the attorney’s misconduct; and any aggravating or mitigating factors.
One of Moorman’s violations was his failure to return unearned fees to clients. At the hearing, Moorman’s doctor from the treatment center testified that he was not able to think and act clearly during severe episodes of depression. The committee also heard that Moorman had made restitution for some of the monies owed to clients.
In its report, the ODC committee noted that the intent of disciplinary proceedings is to maintain high standards of conduct, protect the public, preserve the integrity of the profession and deter future misconduct. It also acknowledged that the facts specific to each case and the seriousness of offenses should be considered in light of aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
In pursuing a fair recommendation, the committee noted that Moorman’s substantiated violations of rules of conduct were weighed against the fact that his violations took place within a short span of months prior to his treatment for depression, and prior to that time he had an impeccable 20-year record as a litigator prior to the violations. Given all of these considerations, the committee recommended a three-year suspension.