Legal Ethics

No Jail Time for Loyola Law Prof Who Helped Client Find Counsel

A Louisiana appeals court has overturned a contempt finding by a state judge that would have required a law professor working with the Orleans Parish public defender’s office in New Orleans to serve a brief jail term and take a legal ethics course.

Steve Singer, who is on leave from his job at Loyola University School of Law and the Loyola Law Clinic, violated a court order by introducing the defendant in a copper theft case to a clinic staff attorney who was willing to take his case as a volunteer, Orleans Parish Judge Frank Marullo held last month. But a unanimous panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal said in an opinion released yesterday that there was no evidence that Singer “willfully disobeyed the order,” which said the public defender’s office couldn’t represent Reese Sims, 58, because he could afford to pay a private lawyer, explains the Times-Picayune. (More details are given in another Times-Picayune article published last month.)

“Likewise, we find no evidence that Mr. Singer interfered with the orderly administration of justice, or that Mr. Singer acted unprofessionally,” the three-judge panel said in its written opinion.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Supreme Court has found that Marullo should not have ordered Sims to discharge his volunteer lawyer, because he has a right to select counsel of his own choosing, the newspaper notes in another article from last month.

“No judge wants to be in this position, to discipline a lawyer,” Marullo said last month, from the bench, concerning the contempt case against against Singer, the newspaper reports. “But fair administration of justice has to be protected. [Lawyers] have to have the proper ethics and professionalism.”

Singer, however, sees the situation differently. “You’re wrong,” he told the judge in court last month. “You’re wrong about the facts, and you’re wrong about the law.” He says that helping a former client find counsel is an ethical obligation, and called Marullo’s contempt finding, as last month’s Times-Picayune article about the contempt case puts it, “personal payback for his work in revamping the public defender system after it fell apart, financially strapped and down to only seven lawyers, in the days after Hurricane Katrina.”

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