Until the Recommendations of the Hearing Committee appeared in my email inbox today, I had no idea the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel was a functioning body. Apparently, it’s just a little slow. Nonetheless, it has now done what many felt should have been done before the Impeachment of Judge Thomas Porteous – address the conduct of the Respond, Claude C. Lightfoot, Jr:
The undisputed factual account of the events that led to the current charges against Respondent are these: In or around the summer of 2000, former United States Court District Judge Gabriel Thomas Porteous, Jr. was experiencing significant financial difficulties, and therefore contacted the Respondent to explore means by which he may manage his debt, including the possibility of bankruptcy protection. The Respondent met with then Judge Porteous and his wife and determined to deploy initially a nonbankruptcy “workout”, whereby the Respondent would contact each creditor and ask them to consider a reduction in the debt owed to allow then Judge Porteous and his wife a means of retiring the debt without filing for bankruptcy.
To that end, Respondent mailed letters to each of the creditors, setting forth his representation and inviting each creditor to consider a workout proposal. Thereafter,
Respondent followed up his letters with telephone calls to the creditors in an effort to get then Judge Porteous and his wife some relief. This process proved to be futile, as the majority of the creditors did not respond at all, and the few that did, knowingly or unknowingly, responded with a lawsuit and a subsequent rejection by their counsel of
Respondent’s proposal on behalf then Judge Porteous and his wife.
As a result, Respondent again met with then Judge Porteous and his wife and recommended a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. In addition to recommending the filing, Respondent, on his own volition, also recommended that then Judge Porteous and his wife essentially falsify the petition. Specifically, Respondent recommended that his clients agree to allow him to purposefully misspell their names as “Ortous, G.T.” and “Ortous, c.A.” Additionally, Respondent counseled then Judge Porteous to obtain a P.O.
Box and recommended that his clients agree to allow him to purposefully use that P.O. Box as the debtors’ mailing address.
Respondent’s reasoning for this deception was supposedly to protect then Judge Porteous and his wife’s identities from the press and the public. Apparently, during this
time the local newspaper, the Times Picayune, would publish the names of all those persons who filed for bankruptcy. The data used to compile the information for these
publications were solely the initial petitions.
Thus, Respondent’s plan, which he solely concocted without any prodding from then Judge Porteous or his wife, was to purposely falsify the initial Petition, have the Times Picayune publish the false names, and then amend the Petition to properly name then Judge Porteous and his wife and put their proper address. Respondent sold this plan
to his clients, and they agreed to allow him to proceed with drafting and filing the initial petition as indicated.
Respondent’s plan worked flawlessly. The falsified initial petition was filed and the Times Picayune published the “alias” created by Respondent. The very next day, Respondent sought to amend the initial Petition to properly name then Judge Porteous and his wife, and also put their correct address. To accomplish this amendment, however, Respondent sought the permission of Bankruptcy Trustee S.J. Beaulieu. When questioned relative to the need for the amendment, Respondent indicated that there were
“typos” that needed to be corrected. Trustee Beaulieu testified that had he been truthfully advised by Respondent of how the false name had been included in the initial
petition, he would have recommended dismissal of the bankruptcy petition as having been filed in bad faith.
The bottom line:
Although the baseline sanction for this conduct is suspension, there are various mitigating factors present in this matter, which leads this Committee to recommend a reduction in the degree of discipline imposed, First, Respondent has no prior disciplinary action against him, The Louisiana Supreme Court has consistently considered the absence of a prior disciplinary record as a mitigating factor…[citations omitted]…Also, full disclosure to ODC and cooperative attitude toward the disciplinary process are mitigating factors…[Citation omitted]…
Given the mitigating factors present in this matter, it is the recommendation of this Hearing Committee that Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a
period of six months, with all but thirty days deferred.
h/t SLABBED reader (and a big “thank you” too)