Legal Ethics

Misspelling Prominent Client's Name on Bankruptcy Petition Costs Attorney a 30-Day Suspension

When a federal judge contacted him for help in resolving his financial problems, a Louisiana attorney reportedly came up with an idea for keeping his name out of the newspaper when he filed for bankruptcy.

Instead of filing a Chapter 13 petition under the judge’s own name, suggested attorney Claude C. Lightfoot, Jr., he could use the name “Ortous” and then correct the “typo” later. Lightfoot also suggested that the judge rent a post office box for the purpose of listing it as his address on the bankruptcy petition, according to an opinion filed last week by the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board.

“The plan worked flawlessly,” the board says, since the New Orleans Times-Picayune only published the initial list of who had filed for bankruptcy. Not surprisingly, no one in the media apparently made the connection at the time between the “Ortous” filing and then-U.S. District Judge Gabriel Thomas Porteous Jr.

However, the plan was unethical, since it involved a lawyer assisting a client in deceptive conduct, the board found. It recommended a six-month suspension for Lightfoot, who has no prior record of discipline, with all but 30 days of the suspension stayed.

Porteous, who has been impeached as a federal judge, is not a target of the attorney discipline case, according to the opinion. His finances, however, were at issue in his impeachment.

“For most people who are just regular folks, no one is going to notice their name in there. It’s not going to be a tremendous embarrassment to them because nobody knows them,” Lightfoot said last year during the judge’s trial, WWLTV reported. “But I feared that would trigger a big, sort of article or exposé in the paper that would embarrass Judge Porteous and his wife.”

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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