Shreveport attorney disbarred for multiple rule violations, including mishandling money

By Kerry Goff | Aug 24, 2016

NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana State Bar Association recently agreed with the Office of Disciplinary Council (ODC) that Murray Salinas, an attorney who practices law in Shreveport, should be disbarred due to a list of violations involving multiple clients.

The charges alleged lack of diligence, failure to return unearned fees, conversion, failure to remit funds to third party, failure to return client file, failure to cooperate with the ODC’s investigations and engaging in dishonest conduct. Salinas allowed the formal charges to become and remain admitted.

The hearing committee concluded that Salinas violated multiple rules with solid evidence and recommended that he be disbarred. Accordingly, the board agreed with the committee.

In the official July 22 court document, the ODC explained that they filed formal charges on Feb. 19, 2015, relating to Salinas' client Joe Ramer, who retained Salinas for a $1,000 fixed fee in July 2012 to complete a divorce.

“(Salinas) received another $500 from the client--$200 for costs and $300 in additional fees--but did not complete the representation before he was discharged and replaced by successor counsel,” the official hearing document said. “(Salinas) advised the client that he would return the entire fee, but to this point has not done so, nor has he submitted the unearned fee issue to the Louisiana State Bar Association Fee Arbitration Program.”

The court document explained that by his acts and omissions, Salinas knowingly engaged in professional misconduct in violation of diligence and failure to return unearned fees.

The court document further explained that Salinas was also retained by Ronald Rusin, who paid an agreed upon fee of $2,000 with an additional $2,000 to be paid if the custody matter required a formal hearing.

“After the parties reached a temporary interim support agreement, problems emerged later concerning other details of the agreement, and ultimately the respondent and the complainant engaged in a shouting match outside the courtroom resulting in respondent's discharge,” the court document said.

At his sworn statement, the document said Salinas conceded that he owed Rusin a refund of some portion of the fee, but admitted that he had not done so. Because of this, the committee said Salinas knowingly failed to refund an unearned fee.

The court document continued to explain that in May 2013, Salinas was hired to represent client Bobby Byrd. The client's mother, Martha Hayes, paid Salinas a $4,000 fixed fee. Before the hearing, the client retained new counsel, who appeared and handled the motion for reconsideration. Salinas admitted that he did not refund any portion of the fee, nor submitted the matter to fee arbitration with the Bar Association. Thus, he violated the rule addressing failure to refund an unearned fee.

In another case, the court document explained that Salinas was hired on Dec. 19, 2011, by Frederick Webb to defend him on a charge of possession with intent to distribute a schedule I controlled substance. On March 12, 2012, Webb plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor with the Louisiana Department of Corrections. Salinas failed to return Webb’s file upon his family’s request and also failed to respond to the ODC's service of the complaint.

Michael Hunt, with the assistance of his wife, Celia, also hired Salinas to negotiate Hunt’s entry into a "re-entry program" following his felony conviction. Celia Hunt paid Salinas $200 on April 20, 2014, to accomplish this entry and later reported that she did not hear from Salinas despite multiple phone calls placed to his office over a period of a month. She later discovered that Salinas’ office telephone had been temporarily disconnected.

When served with the original complaint submitted by Celia Hunt, Salinas failed to provide the required written response to the ODC, which also violated rules of professional conduct.

In another complaint, Diane Sino, owner of a chiropractic clinic, treated Salinas’ client, Kristin Blaire Ellis, who was injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2013. Sino forwarded the official "Notice of Health Care Provider Privilege" to Salinas. During settlement negotiations, Salinas contacted Sino seeking a 10 percent reduction on a bill for $1,415 in order to facilitate the settlement. Sino agreed.

The document said that after Sino learned from Ellis that her case was settled earlier than Salinas’ request, her office made repeated efforts to secure payment for her services to no avail.

“In connection with Ms. Ellis' representation, Salinas also failed to pay outstanding medicals due Willis Knighton Hospital totaling $130 and $2,855 respectively,” the court document said. “ODC forwarded Ms. Ellis' complaint to (Salinas) but he failed to respond.”

Furthermore, Marjorie and Kenneth Heal hired Salinas in November 2013 to represent Kenneth Heal on charges of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

“The fee arrangement was $9,000,” the document said. “The defendant, Kenneth Heal, entered a guilty plea to the drug charge but the gun charge was dropped. (Salinas) also agreed to perform a power of attorney for Marjorie Heal to handle her son's business affairs, but failed to do so. (Salinas) was served with the above-referenced complaints but failed to respond.”

Much like the other complaints, another client, Troy Lewis, hired Salinas in October 2012 to file and prosecute an application for post-conviction relief following his conviction for violation of the controlled dangerous substances law.

“Salinas was paid $2,000 of a $5,000 fixed fee the same day,” the document said. “(Salinas) has taken no significant action on the client's behalf, and the client was ultimately compelled to file an application pro se on July 11, 2014. (He) was served with the complaint but failed to respond.”

With the evidence provided, as well as many recitations of other court cases like Salinas’ case, the committee said that disbarment is the baseline sanction for Salinas.

“Disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly converts client property and causes injury or potential injury to a client,” the court document said. “Here, (Salinas) collected fees from clients, performed little to no work on the client matters, then filed to return the fees upon request and/or termination … Furthermore, the facts of this matter demonstrate that (he) has engaged in a pattern of neglecting client matters. These actions caused serious harm to several clients and one third party.”

Based on the evidence provided, the board adopted the factual findings, conclusions and recommendation of the committee, and also recommended that Salinas be disbarred. The board also recommended that Salinas provide refunds to all clients involved, as well as return Webb’s file, and be assessed with the costs and expenses accrued during the hearings.

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