Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
NEW ORLEANS – An ethics complaint filed by investigative journalist and blogger Jason Berry with the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) late last year against lawyer-turned-private-investigator Wes Bearden for allegedly suborning perjury may not get very far, according to local legal expert.
Berry, who publishes TheAmericanZombie.com, had been investigating U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who was also a candidate in the 2015 gubernatorial race. Berry wrote on his blog that he has been researching “accusations levied against Senator David Vitter that he solicited prostitutes here in Louisiana.”
Bearden is CEO and chairman of J.W. Bearden & Associates, which has offices in New Orleans and Dallas. He also is licensed to practice law in Louisiana and Texas, but the focus of his business is investigations, background checks and expert witness testimony.
In October, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) arrested Robert Frenzel, who was working for Bearden's agency, alleging that he was trying to record Sheriff Newell Normand and some friends when they were having coffee. The sheriff's department alleged that Frenzel had been hired by the Bearden's agency to spy on Normand for Vitter's campaign.
After Frenzel's arrest, officers found numerous recordings in his possession including one of Berry at his home, taken without permission; and another of Wes Bearden allegedly attempting to get a former prostitute who Berry had interviewed for the Vitter story to sign an affidavit stating that Berry had paid her for the interview.
Berry, who denies that he paid the woman, filed his complaint in December with the LADB's Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), alleging that Bearden's agency was attempting to get the woman to commit perjury.
Dane Ciolino, a legal ethics professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, explained to the Louisiana Record why the bar association was involved in the case.
“(The LADB's Office of Disciplinary Counsel) has jurisdiction over attorneys even when they aren’t acting within the scope of their legal profession," he said.
Once a complaint against a lawyer is received, it is reviewed by the ODC to ensure that the complaint falls under the jurisdiction of the review board, according to the LADB's website. The lawyer then has an opportunity to respond to the complaint.
The ODC has three options to proceed: it could open a full disciplinary action; the matter could be referred to the LSBA Practice Assistance Program for Diversion, which is an alternative program that works to resolve issues between lawyers and clients without disciplinary action; or the case could be administratively closed.
“The ODC moves at a deliberate pace," Ciolino said.
He cautioned, however, that the case may not turn out in Berry's favor since the ODC most commonly handles disputes between attorneys and clients, and they don't often handle cases that are so politicized.
“His complaint is one that the ODC may look at with skepticism," Ciolino said. "This is not their standard fare."
A search of the State of Texas Bar Association and of the Louisiana State Bar Association shows that Bearden is an active member without any complaints against him. He could not be reached for comment.