BATON ROUGE—The numbers are in, and formal allegations of misconduct against Louisiana lawyers in 2015 reached a 10-year high.
Statistics from the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board show that while the number of people filing complaints has gone down to its second-lowest number since 2006, the number of allegations is soaring.
The LADB said 4,033 acts of misconduct were alleged in the 2,955 complaints filed. Established by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1990, the board investigates all allegations of lawyer misconduct and makes recommendations when warranted to the Supreme Court.
Melissa Landry, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, recently told the Louisiana Journal that the rising allegations are symptomatic of a larger problem of accountability in the legal system.
“I believe these statistics reflect a discipline structure that is governed by lax standards and ineffective enforcement," Landry said. "There is very little accountability for those lawyers who lie, steal and cheat their clients— or those who provide ineffective counsel. Without effective accountability and some mechanism of transparency, misconduct and corruption will continue to grow. I believe that’s what we are seeing here."
Disciplinary enforcement dropped nearly 37 percent last year with only 136 total disciplinary actions taken against lawyers out to the 4,033 allegations. Suspension, admonition and probation represented 83 of those punitive measures. The low rate of discipline in 2015 appears to be consistent with previous years.
“Over the last decade, roughly 30,000 complaints have been filed against Louisiana lawyers," Landry said. "The resulting discipline from those formal charges? Just 151 disbarments and about 1,700 other disciplinary actions."
Landry pointed out that that means less than 8 percent of formal complaints against lawyers in Louisiana actually result in punitive action.
"Some people may suggest that’s because the vast majority of complaints are not valid," she said. "I reject that view. When there is an actual finding of misconduct, which is rare, and disciplinary action is taken, it is often a slap on the wrist— such as a public reprimand or being required to take continuing legal education classes.”
The LADB has outlined the Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires Louisiana lawyers to uphold the law and abide by the rules under oath. The board is comprised of 14 members appointed by the Supreme Court who monitor the violations of the rule. A few examples of violations or ethical obligations subject to disciplinary action include, but are not limited to: excessive fees, ineffective assistance, lack of communication and criminal conduct.
Chief Disciplinary Counsel Charles Plattsmier recently reported that the decrease in the number of complaints is reason to be optimistic for the Louisiana legal system. He claimed that the number of allegations that the LADB tracks primarily serves to inform lawyers about what clients are disputing.
Landry said the numbers are more indicative of the ineffective enforcement of discipline among Louisiana lawyers who are charged with the misconduct allegations.
“This is certainly not to suggest that all lawyers are corrupt,” Landry said. “In fact, I believe the vast majority of those practicing in Louisiana do so honorably and ethically. But because we have a system that appears to tolerate misconduct and unethical behavior of some, it reflects more broadly on the whole."