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 professional conduct.

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 previous charges.

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 1.4(a)(1).

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.



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