Legal Ethics

Suspension Recommended for Attorney Who Ran Errands for Client at $125 Per Hour

A lawyer who, among other misconduct, charged a client her usual billable rate of $125 per hour for running errands and taking him to Walmart should be suspended rather than disbarred, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has recommended.

Stepping back from an earlier hearing committee recommendation of disbarment (PDF), the found in its written opinion (PDF) that Katherine M. Guste was paid about $30,000 over a six-month period between 2007 and 2008 for performing a substantial amount of nonlegal services for a client who was arguably disabled. Additionally, she didn’t have a written retainer agreement, didn’t deposit any of these funds into a trust account and didn’t keep contemporaneous billing records.

However, the board declined to find, without supporting medical testimony, that the client was, as the committee held, of “diminished capacity” simply because he suffered from Huntington’s disease.

In a second client’s case, Guste did not cooperate with a client’s termination of her services in a divorce case, and did not promptly withdraw her appearance, refund unearned fees or, for a period of two years, forward his file to his new counsel, the board’s opinion says.

Although the board recommends a two-year suspension, rather than disbarment, as the appropriate penalty, it also would require Guste to make restitution to both clients for unearned fees.

A tip of the hat to the Business Insider and the Legal Profession Blog.

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