NEW ORLEANS – In a July 1 recommendation to the Louisiana Supreme Court,
the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board (LADB) accepted the formal charges
filed by the Office of Disciplinary Council (ODC) against attorney Hugh E.
McNeely to be suspended for three years with all but one year deferred subject
to a two-year period of probation, and possible additional repercussions if he
chooses to return to the profession, for alleged failures in multiple rules of
McNeely was already serving a three-year suspension, which
was scheduled to end Nov. 6, 2015. The first suspension was based upon
misconduct in three client matters. The misconduct included neglect, failure to
communicate, failure to return unearned fees, and failure to cooperate with
ODC’s investigations. The misconduct occurred between 2008 and 2011.
During the same time period, another claim was filed against
him. In this claim, McNeely was retained by Julie Clavo to represent her in a workers’ compensation claim against her employer. Clavo’s complaint alleged McNeely informed her he was working on a settlement with defense counsel,
but the day before trial, a voluntary dismissal was signed by both parties,
allegedly without the consent of Clavo. She attempted to contact McNeely via
phone and mail with no response. Clavo said she never heard from McNeely.
Furthermore, the ODC was not able to speak with McNeely, who
currently resides in Saudi Arabia, and failed to provide a response to Clavo’s
complaint or communicate in any way with ODC regarding the situation.
The new ODC charges included similar offenses from his
The LADB concluded McNeely violated a majority of the
rules alleged in the formal charges set by the ODC, with two exceptions.
“The board rejects the committee’s conclusion that [McNeely]
violated Rules 1.4(a)(4) and 1.5(a) as those rules were not charged in the
formal charges,” the LABD said. “The board also finds [McNeely] violated
Rule 1.4(a)(1) and 8.1(c), which the committee did not address. The board
rejects the sanction recommended by the committee. Rather, the board recommends
[McNeely] be adjudged guilty of additional violations warranting suspension.”
McNeely has not sought reinstatement from this previous suspension
and remains suspended.
“McNeely's lack of response constituted a failure to act with
reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of
Rule 1.3; failure to promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance
with respect to which the client's informed consent is required in violation of
Rule 1.4(a)(1); failure to keep the client reasonably informed about the status
of the matter, in violation of Rule 1.4(a)(3); failure to return client file
and return advance payment of fee or expense that has not been earned or
incurred upon termination of representation, in violation of Rule 1.16(d);
failure to cooperate with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in its
investigation, in violation of Rule 8.1(c); and, violating or attempting to
violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, in violation of Rule 8.4(a) of the
Rules of Professional Conduct,” the LABD said.
The July 1 document explained that rule
1.4(a)(1) states that a lawyer shall promptly inform the client of any decision
or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent is
required. The allegations indicate that McNeely dismissed Clavo’s matter
without her consent or knowledge. Simply enough, dismissal of a matter requires
the consent of a client. Accordingly, the LDAC found that McNeely violated Rule
The LDAC also found McNeely violated Rule 8.1(c). Rule
8.1(c) states that a lawyer shall cooperate with ODC in its investigation of
any matter before it.
“Here, the record clearly indicates that [McNeely] did not
respond to ODC’s numerous requests for a response to the complaint,” the report
said. “In fact, [he] never provided a response to the complaint and did not participate
otherwise in the investigation of this matter.”
The report concluded McNeely caused significant harm to Clavo by accepting her case, failing to communicate with her about the
status of the matter, and then dismissing the matter without her consent.
Furthermore, McNeely did not comply with his obligations after termination of
the representation, such as returning Clavo’s file.
The LDAC also found that it caused the ODC to expend
additional resources by failing to cooperate with its investigation.
“Accordingly, the bBoard adopts the committee's factual
findings and legal conclusions, with the exceptions and additions,” LADC said. “However,
the board rejects the committee's sanction recommendation. Rather, the board
recommends [McNeely] be adjudged guilty of additional violations.”
The LDAC recommended that McNeely be found guilty of additional
violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct to be considered when and if he
returns to the practice of law. The board also recommends that McNeely be
assessed with costs and expenses of the LDAC’s time in this case due to his
lack of cooperation.