NEW ORLEANS – The Office of Disciplinary Council (ODC) submitted formal charges on July 8 against attorney Janinne Latrell Gilbert over allegations that Gilbert violated several Rules of Professional Conduct.
The rules the ODC said Gilbert violated are diligence, communication, reasonable fee, advance deposit placed in trust, periodic accounting, return of unearned fees, disputed funds in trust account, obligations upon termination, failure to respond, failure to cooperate, violate or attempt to violate Rules of Professional Conduct and dishonest conduct.
On Nov. 10, 2015, the ODC said that it filed the formal charges and by letter, dated Nov. 12, 2015, the formal charges were mailed via certified mail to Gilbert. Despite the fact that the certified mail was received, Gilbert failed to file an answer to the charges within the time period allowed by the Louisiana Supreme Court Rules.
When Gilbert did not respond based on ODC’s request, it filed its petition. On March 10, it filed its submission on sanctions, which suggested that Gilbert should receive permanent disbarment, restitution to her client in the amount of $2,000, or to the Louisiana State Bar Association Client Assistance Fund for any claim that it might pay to the client and payment of all costs and expenses associated with the matter.
“The proposed sanction will support the disciplinary goals of maintaining high standards of conduct, protecting the public, preserving the integrity of the profession, and deterring future misconduct,” the ODC said.
The suggested sanctions were based on the client’s, Denton James Auzenne’s, formal charges against Gilbert.
The ODC investigation explained that when Howard Austin died, Auzenne sought representation to establish filiation. Auzenne signed a contractual agreement for legal representation by Gilbert and provided her with a money order in the amount of $2,000.
“The fee agreement set forth a $175 hourly rate for attorney fees, as well as the requirement that Auzenne provide a $2,000 deposit,” the report said. “There is no indication that this advance deposit against fees to be earned was placed in (Gilbert’s) client trust account.”
The report further explained that Auzenne explained to Gilbert that time was of the essence, and she told Auzenne that the petition would be filed within one week of receipt of DNA test results.
Auzenne submitted a sample for the needed DNA test, but the test had to be re-done. A second sample was submitted. When the DNA results were in, Auzenne called and texted Gilbert for four days before receiving a reply. When Respondent contacted Auzenne, she assured him that the petition would be filed; however, the petition was not filed.
“Because time was of the essence, Auzenne hired attorney Arthur Boudreaux to do the work for which (Gilbert) originally was hired,” the report said. “Auzenne called (Gilbert) and advised (her) that her services no longer were needed.”
Auzenne asked Gilbert to provide him with an accounting and to return his unearned fee, but she told him that she had filed the petition for filiation, but had failed to submit the necessary filing fee.
Hearing nothing from Gilbert by April 13, 2015, Auzenne sent a written request, via certified mail, for an accounting, the filiation paperwork allegedly filed and a return of any unearned fees.
Despite receiving the mail, Gilbert did not respond. Further, despite Gilbert’s claim that she filed the paperwork, the clerk's office advised that it had no record of a petition for filiation being submitted by Gilbert on Auzenne's behalf, either with or without the filing fee.
The Committee found that Gilbert failed to answer within the prescribed time, or the time as extended.
“Accordingly, the factual allegations contained within the formal charges are deemed admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence,” the report said.