METAIRIE – In an Aug. 3 official document of a Louisiana Disciplinary Board hearing, the Office of Disciplinary Council (ODC) suggested that Heather M. Murphy, who practiced law in Metairie, be permanently disbarred for eight counts of alleged professional misconduct, including repeated conversions of client funds, practicing without a license and failing to cooperate with ODC procedures.
The official ODC document explained that Murphy’s own testimony, provided on March 30, offered very little evidence of her reasons for her conduct. She requested more time as she wanted to hire attorney Dane S. Ciolino, but needed to raise the funds to do so.
Ciolino did appear at the scheduled hearing on May 6, and he reported that he received a "bizarre" series of text messages sent to him by Murphy’s phone earlier that morning explaining why she could not attend.
“In those messages, (Murphy) complained of a medical problem and sent photographs of what appeared to be a human hand that was purportedly infected in some way,” the document said.
Outside of the text messages, there was no additional evidence to prove Murphy was unable to attend, thus the court rejected Ciolino’s request for a stay. The ODC did approve of Ciolino’s request to withdraw from representing Murphy in future procedures.
In addition, the ODC offered live testimony from six witnesses who were former clients of Murphy. With their testimony, the ODC determined that all witnesses were credible and corroborated each other’s complaints.
At the same time, with the information provided by Murphy on the day she did present her testimony, the ODC found the testimony lacking in significant detail and credibility.
“We find (Murphy’s) testimony incredible and not believable,” the document said. “(She) showed no remorse that we could detect or even an acknowledgment of her serious violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. She made vague references to allegedly exculpatory evidence and testimony that she supposedly was going to present, none of which was ever presented.”
The document also explained that Murphy alluded to conspiracies of others and generalized misunderstandings, but she offered no sense or indication that she had any responsibility or accountability for her misconduct.
In eight counts, the ODC found that Murphy violated multiple rules of professional conduct.
“We find that ODC has establish by clear and convincing evidence that (Murphy) engaged in a disturbing pattern of misconduct by failing to act with diligence, failing to withdraw properly, failing to communicate with clients, failing to return client files, failing to return unearned fees, conversion of client funds, repeatedly practicing law while ineligible, and failing to cooperate with ODC or participate in the disciplinary process,” the document said.
Because of Murphy’s lack of cooperation, along with the credible testimony of witnesses, the ODC requested to amend their initial recommended sanction set forth in their original report.
“In our original report, a majority of our committee recommended that (Murphy) be disbarred,” the document said. “One committee member dissented only from that recommendation, believing instead that permanent disbarment was warranted. Having listened carefully to and considered the evidence presented, along with the (Murphy’s) post remand course of conduct in these proceedings, we now are unanimous in our recommendation that (she) should be permanently disbarred.”
The ODC supported their amended decision because of the severity of Murphy’s misconduct and the harm it caused her clients.
In support, the ODC explained that evidence showed Murphy repeatedly converted client funds for her own use, engaged in fraudulent conduct, and refused to cooperate with disciplinary process. ODC continued to argue that there are two guidelines for permanent disbarment that are implicated: Guidelines 1 and 8.
“As to Guideline 1, ODC contends that (Murphy) has engaged in multiple instances of conversion of client funds, to wit, not returning unearned funds. Guideline 8 provides that permanent disbarment may be considered where following notice, an attorney engages in the unauthorized practice of law subsequent to resignation, disbarment or during the period of time in which the lawyer is suspended from the practice of law.”
Based on all evidence, and Murphy’s lack of cooperation, the ODC unanimously voted to permanently disbar Murphy.
They also recommended that Murphy make full restitution to all complainants and former clients and pay all costs of the ODC proceedings.