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 close family.”
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 him.”
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.