Louisiana Record

Monday, August 19, 2019

LABD: 'Romance' with client's persona leads to Winnfield attorney's possible disbarment


By Karen Kidd | Jul 15, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (Louisiana Record) — Suspended Winnfield attorney Laura J. Johnson faces possible disbarment following a split Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board (LADB) recommendation to the Louisiana Supreme Court over an romantic relationship that allegedly caused her misconduct on behalf of a client in a 2015 criminal case.

Johnson, now 71, had been in a "romantic relationship" with "Michael," who actually was her client, Kenneth Stanford, disguising his voice over the phone to pull her into a scheme to secure his release without paying restitution, the LADB's 19-page recommendation said.

Johnson allegedly lied to a chief investigator to whom she presented a receipt for Johnson's restitution, which he hadn't paid, and alleged she'd taken the funds and used them, according to the LADB's recommendation. Johnson's alleged ruse was discovered, Standford's probation was revoked and his obligation to pay restitution enforced, according to the recommendation.

"The baseline sanction in this matter is disbarment," the LADB recommendation said.

The LADB recommended Johnson be disbarred, retroactive to the date of her November 2015 interim suspension. LADB member Dominick Scandurro dissented from the board's majority recommendation, saying he would vote that Johnson be permanently disbarred.

The LADB's recommendation follows a hearing committee's legal conclusions and its own recommendation, filed about a year ago, that Johnson be disbarred.

Shortly after the hearing committee issued its recommendation, the office of disciplinary counsel filed an objection, maintaining that Johnson should be permanently disbarred. In her pre-argument board brief, Johnson requested a three-year suspension.  

Johnson was admitted to the bar in Louisiana on Oct. 5, 1979, according to her profile at the Louisiana State Bar Association's website. Johnson "has a lengthy history of 10 prior offenses received throughout her years of practice," the LADB recommendation said.

Johnson is alleged to have fabricated a false receipt for her client in a theft-by-fraud criminal case for $24,500 that was supposed to be for restitution in his case. The "lengthy recordings" the hearing committee listened to suggested "she was under some sort of pure manipulation by this criminal defendant," according to the hearing committee's recommendation.

"The committee found that the [Johnson] had violated duties owed to the court, and that her conduct was knowing and intentional, but that it caused no actual harm," the LADB's recommendation said.

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Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board Louisiana State Bar Association Louisiana Supreme Court

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