State Supreme Court justices split over New Orleans attorney's suspension

By Karen Kidd | May 3, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (Louisiana Record) — New Orleans attorney Lionel Lon Burns has been suspended following a split Louisiana Supreme Court attorney disciplinary proceeding May 1 over allegations that his paralegal appeared in his place in court during a 2013 Jefferson Parish civil trial.

Burns has been suspended for a year, ordered to attend the Louisiana State Bar Association's ethics school and to pay all costs and expenses in the matter, according to the high court's 11-page attorney disciplinary proceeding

"We find that [Burns] acted knowingly," the attorney disciplinary proceeding said. "He violated duties owed to the legal profession, causing actual harm. The baseline sanction for this type of misconduct is suspension. The aggravating and mitigating factors found by the board are supported by the record."

Burns was admitted to the bar in Louisiana on April 9, 1998, according to his profile at the state bar's website. Burns had no prior discipline before the state bar, according to the disciplinary proceeding.

Allegations against Burns stemmed from the appearance of his paralegal before 24th Judicial District Court Judge Michael Mentz in September 2013, according to the attorney disciplinary proceeding. The paralegal, who is not an attorney and did not identify himself to the court as a paralegal, informed the court that Burns was ill that day. The paralegal subsequently participated in a pretrial conference, negotiated a settlement and referred to Burns' clients as his own.

During a contempt hearing the following month, Burns "insisted" that the paralegal "had identified himself as a non-lawyer to court personnel" but that statement was contradicted by court personnel and opposing counsel, according to the attorney disciplinary proceeding. "Following the contempt hearing, Judge Mentz found respondent in direct contempt of court for sending a non-lawyer to a lawyers-only pretrial conference with the apparent intention of negotiating a settlement," the attorney disciplinary proceeding said. "Judge Mentz also fined [the] respondent $100."

State Supreme Court Justice Marcus R. Clark, Justice Jefferson Davis Hughes III and Justice James T. Genovese all dissented from the decision to suspend Burns but all agreed he should be suspended. In his single-sentence dissent, Hughes said he would have agreed with a shorter suspension. "Respectfully, I would impose only a six-month suspension," he said in his dissent.

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