NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has recommended to the Louisiana Supreme Court (LASC) that attorney N. Dawn Harper be suspended from practicing law for three years and return all unearned fees to clients.
The formal recommendation follows an investigation by the Hearing Committee on misconduct accusations filed by the Office of Disciplinary Council (ODC) against Harper. The ODC alleged that Harper violated the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct in the areas of diligence, communication, fees, safekeeping client funds, termination of representation, unauthorized practice of law and failure to cooperate with ODC’s investigation.
The ODC sent formal charges by certified mail to Harper’s home and business address, but both letters were returned. Harper also failed to respond to the charges within the time period allowed by Louisiana Supreme Court Rules XIX, §11(E)(3).
The board agreed with all committee recommendations, including charging Harper with expenses related to disciplinary proceedings, with the exception of its recommended year-and-a-day suspension. The board instead recommended a three-year suspension. If the LASC follows the board’s recommendation, Harper will be required to refund unearned fees and provide a written account of legal actions taken on behalf of clients Kristine Vo, Carol Green, William Edwards and Parvin Lalehparvaran.
The committee found, and the board concurred, that aggravating factors included “dishonest or selfish motive, a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses, bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary process by intentionally failing to comply with the rules or orders of the disciplinary agency, refusal to acknowledge the wrong nature of her misconduct, vulnerability of the victims and indifference to making restitution.”
The ODC filed its submission on sanctions on Feb. 6. The committee’s report on March 30, 2016 concluded that Harper violated rules as ODC alleged, and found that Harper knowingly “caused actual harm by failing to complete her clients’ legal matters and depriving them of funds.”
With no objection filed by the ODC or Harper in response to the committee’s recommendation, oral arguments on the matter were scheduled for July 7, but Harper failed to appear.
In rendering its recommended suspension of one year and a day, the committee cited Harper’s lack of experience, absence of past disciplinary action, and “existence of personal or emotional problems” as factors contributing to her actions.
The Louisiana Supreme Court Rule XIX, §10(C) offers the following guide to determining the parameters of an attorney sanction: Whether or not the lawyer has violated a duty owed to a client, to the public, to the legal system or to the profession; whether the lawyer acted intentionally, knowingly or negligently; the amount of actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer’s misconduct; and the existence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.
Weighing these factors in its recommendation, the board’s recommendation stated, “Relative to duties owed her four clients, (Harper) acted knowingly and caused harm by delaying the resolution of their cases and potentially jeopardizing their legal matters.”
The report goes on to say that although Harper was inexperienced when the misconduct took place, other factors took precedent in the board’s decision. “(Harper’s) complete failure to respond to her clients and to the many attempts by the ODC to contact her, coupled with the fact that actual harm was sustained by her clients…a three year suspension is appropriate.”