NEW ORLEANS – In a June 30 attorney disciplinary matter, which arose out
of formal charges, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) requested that attorney
James Louis Fahrenholtz be disbarred on grounds of professional misconduct.
The ODC alleged that Fahrenholtz's violations consisted of the commission of a
criminal act; conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
failure to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation; and violating or
attempting to violate the rules of professional conduct.
On Nov. 17, the ODC filed formal charges based on Fahrenholtz's alleged violations.
On Nov. 19, the formal charges were mailed, but the mail was returned unclaimed.
Thus, Fahrenholtz failed to file an answer to the charges within the time allowed
by the Supreme Court.
Accordingly, on Feb. 1, the ODC filed a motion and
stressed that it had demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that Fahrenholtz
did violate the rules listed in the report.
Moreover, a review of both the American Bar Association (ABA)
standards for imposing lawyer discipline and Louisiana jurisprudence confirmed
that serious felony misconduct, such as that alleged against Fahrenholtz,
typically results in a baseline sanction of disbarment.
The formal charges stated that Fahrenholtz was a Louisiana
licensed attorney who was admitted into practice on April 19, 1996. He was
suspended by order of the Supreme Court effective Oct. 16, 2009 and remained
suspended at this time. Additionally, he has been ineligible to practice law
since 2005 when he failed to pay his bar dues.
Fahrenholtz said he was retired and had not practiced since
2005 for that reason.
“(Fahrenholtz) was arrested on charges of illegal possession
of stolen things and obstructions of justice,” the report said.
The report further explained that he allegedly stole an iPad
computer tablet from a lobbyist while he was at the state Capitol, and
investigators were able to locate the iPad at the home of Fahrenholtz. After
securing a search warrant, the investigators went to Fahrenholtz’s home. As
they approached, he allegedly threw the tablet into a swimming pool or pond at the rear
of his home in an effort to obstruct the investigators’ efforts as well as
to hide and destroy evidence.
He resolved his criminal charges with pretrial diversion and intervention
efforts which permitted him to enter a guilty plea to illegal possession of
stolen items and the payment of restitution in the amount of $800 to the
Fahrenholtz was placed on notice but failed and refused to respond to the
investigative inquiry made by the ODC and has otherwise failed to cooperate. Because
of this, Farhenholtz’s conduct reflects the listed violations.
“(Fahrenholtz) caused substantial harm to the victim of his theft, including the
destruction of property, as well as harm to the profession in legal system,”
the report said.
The following aggravating factors were listed in the ODC
proceedings: prior disciplinary offenses, dishonest or selfish motive, multiple
offenses, bad-faith obstruction of the disciplinary investigation, and
substantial experience in the practice of law. Thus, the committee requested
the baseline sanction of disbarment.
“Accordingly, it is the committee's recommendation that
Fahrenholtz be disbarred and that all costs of the proceedings be assessed
against him,” the report said.
Elected to the School Board as a reformer in 2000 and 2004,
Fahrenholtz did not seek re-election in 2008.
In a 2009 interview with Gambit,
Fahrenholtz argued that he retired from practicing law in 2005, adding the
disciplinary action issued by the Louisiana Supreme Court was a waste of the state’s
time and resources.
The Supreme Court found justifiable reason to pursue
Fahrenholtz, despite his claims.
"The misconduct is particularly troublesome because he
was an elected official at the time," the Supreme Court ruling said. “An
attorney occupying a position of public trust is held to even a higher standard
of conduct than an ordinary attorney."