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 victim.
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."