Louisiana Record

Monday, August 19, 2019

New Orleans Councilman refuses to pay debts incurred after Supreme Court suspension

By Michelle de Leon | Dec 11, 2016

NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans city council member faces unpaid debts after a state Supreme Court ruling found him guilty of neglecting his clients in his work as a lawyer.

James Austin Gray II, a councilman from District E, was suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court in March 2015 for failing to fulfill his obligations as a lawyer to his clients. Despite being paid attorney fees, Gray was found to have not executed legal work for any of the four clients who submitted complaints against him. The Supreme Court suspended the councilman from conducting legal work for two years.

The case started in 2012 during a time when Gray was not re-elected to the city council. At the time, he was aiming to replace then Councilman Jon Johnson who resigned after he admitted to committing federal corruption crimes. According to the findings of the Supreme Court, Gray neglected to attend to the concerns of his clients.

He also reportedly ignored their attempts to speak with him. In some of the cases cited in the complaints, Gray allegedly went as far as failing to provide the documents necessary for his clients to turn over their cases to a different attorney. The complaints brought against him included cases that dated as far back as 2003.

Apart from the two-year suspension, the court also ordered the councilman to settle the fee disputes brought by two of his clients. However, Gray’s clients have yet to receive the debts he owes them.

Peggy Burns, one of Gray’s former clients told WWL-TV that the councilman has not paid her a single penny since the order was released. Burns hired Gray in 2011 as the lawyer to work on the succession of her father’s estate. She paid the lawyer $4,400. However, Gray’s services as her attorney only involved enrolling himself as the lawyer of record. Burns also shared that the councilman did not return any of her calls or responded to her inquiries regarding the case. He failed to give back the documents linked to the case, as well.

Records obtained from the Louisiana attorney disciplinary board showed that Burns filed a follow-up complaint against Gray in May. This came after an arbitrator declared that the councilman owed her $3,000 for his negligence as her lawyer. While Burns believed the amount to be less than how much she should receive, she settled for it in the hopes of recouping her initial expenses. However, Gray has not given her anything despite the reduced fees.  

“He hasn’t paid me a penny. I’ve been going through this since 2011. I have a nervous stomach all the time. Depression, I'm suffering with. It took away from my life. It took away from me and my children,” Burns told WWL-TV.

Attorney Kevin Christensen, the lawyer helping Burns collect the money from Gray, shared his frustration over the matter. He told WWL-TV, “Why not just pay her? Why protract it? Why get all this bad press if you're a politician?”

For his part, Gray clarified earlier that the suspension from the Supreme Court does not reflect his work as a member of the city council.

“None of this had anything to do with my role as a city councilman. Even the allegations didn’t question my honesty, or my ability for that matter. The allegations were about my attentiveness to clients,” said Gray in an interview with The Advocate.

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Organizations in this Story

City of New Orleans Louisiana Supreme Court