BATON ROUGE — Three years following his arrest for accepting
marijuana in exchange for legal services, Louisiana criminal-defense
attorney James Mecca has been suspended one year from the practice of
According to court documents, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered
the suspension Jan. 20, with justices offering a mix of opinions on
the length and severity of Mecca's punishment.
Weimer, who concurred in part and dissented in part, wrote
that Mecca's actions have placed the high court in a "quandary."
"On the one hand, the respondent has made a laudable
recovery from the substance-abuse issues that undisputedly motivated
his misconduct," Weimer said. "On the other hand, and also
an indisputable proposition, the respondent's use of his law license
in an illegal bargain was an abuse of his privilege to practice law."
he would have would imposed a two-year suspension, "deferring
all but six months," and placed Mecca on probation for the
remainder of the suspension. He also would have required as a
condition of probation continued compliance with a Judges and Lawyers
Assistance Program recovery agreement.
Mecca was arrested
on Dec. 20, 2013, in St. Tammany Parish in a sting operation after a
cooperating individual posed as a potential client and exchanged a
half-pound of marijuana worth approximately $2,500 to help offset
In a previous interview
with The Louisiana Record, Mecca said he was grateful for his
arrest because it provided him an opportunity to get help.
was so relieved when this happened," he said. "I can’t
explain to you enough just how relieved I was that finally, maybe,
somebody could help me with this problem I’ve got. I couldn’t do
it myself and I couldn’t reach out because I was professional.
There was an embarrassment with reaching out."
Background details provided in the Supreme Court's discipline order indicate that during court proceedings, Mecca testified that he had
been using alcohol and marijuana to cope with his father’s death in
2011, and stated
that he “had no positive ways to cope with his grief as he had few
friends and no close family.”
Mecca further testified
that he was “extremely remorseful” for the arrest and the
embarrassment it had caused his family and legal profession. He also
said that the arrest was “the best thing that could have happened
In August 2014, he pleaded guilty to possession of
marijuana first offense, which is a misdemeanor, and served a
suspended six-month sentence and was placed on probation for one year
under the supervision of JLAP. He was also required to pay a $200
fine and court costs.
In its ruling, the state Supreme Court
rejected a recommendation from the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary
Board, which had called
for a two-year suspension from the practice of law "fully
deferred, conditioned upon a period of probation to run concurrently
with the remainder of respondent’s JLAP recovery agreement, which
will end in May 2019."
Justice Jeannette Knoll dissented
from the majority, finding the one-year suspension as "unduly
"The court’s function in disciplinary
proceedings is primarily to protect the public, not to punish the
lawyer," Knoll said. "… Recognizing this principle, both
the hearing committee and the disciplinary board recommended that any
period of suspension imposed against respondent be fully deferred.
Furthermore, respondent is contrite and has been an outstanding
participant in the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program."
Justice Greg Guidry agreed
with the majority's finding that Mecca committed professional
misconduct that warranted discipline, but he would have imposed