NEW ORLEANS — Attorney Joslyn Renee Alex recently was suspended from practicing law for “one year and one day” by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Alex, an attorney in Breaux Bridge in St. Martin Parish, was brought before the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) for allegedly mishandling client property. These are the second mishandling charges to be filed against Alex since 2003.
The recent suspension was handed down on Nov. 15.
According to court documents, the attorney was placed on a 13-month deferred suspension and two years of probation with conditions in 2003 because of charges alleging the lawyer mishandled funds paid out to third-party doctors and commingled client funds.
In the latest suspension, Alex initially faced two allegations of mishandling clients' property. The first charge of failing to pay an arbitration award was deemed by the ODC to be unfounded and was dropped.
The remaining allegation dates back to March through December 2010. Court documents state that the attorney made several accounting and procedural errors including, but not limited to, misusing client trust funds and making inappropriate payments.
The investigation into Alex’s records found that the accounting errors were because of poor math in addition to “received settlement funds, although there was no evidence of an existing settlement or of a retainer having been deposited on the payee’s behalf.”
Formal charges against the lawyer were filed by the ODC in March 2015. A formal hearing was then held on Sept. 1, 2015. The hearing committee relied on the findings of forensic accountant Traci Fontenot who discovered that Alex had released funds to clients before settlement funds were received. Fontenot also relayed that “some third parties were not paid, and the respondent paid personal expenses through the account.”
The personal expenses paid from the account included checks for office expenses for $2,366, mortgage payments of $8,706.18, $2,500 to Mid-South Bank, $400 in Christmas bonuses for the lawyer’s employees, $200 to St. James Baptist church and $120 to Dupuis Air Conditioning.
Alex informed the ODC that the signatures on the employee bonus checks were forged. Fontenot noted that the account was never overdrawn, and that there were only two instances when a client did not receive the full amount of funds due to them.
During the lawyer's testimony, Alex claimed that she was unaware that other people were writing checks from the account. Upon learning of the issue, the lawyer implemented a computer-generated check system and trained employees on its use. She also stated that the account was used by employees for theft.
The hearing committee determined that though Alex acted negligibly, she did act to rectify any improper payout to clients and showed remorse by implementing various accounting systems to improve her handling of funds.
The committee presented the findings to the Supreme Court who handed down sentencing. All but 30 days of suspension was deferred, followed by two years of supervised probation. She was required to attend the Louisiana State Bar Association Trust Accounting School and submit to quarterly trust account audits.