Louisiana Disciplinary Board recommends year and one day suspension for lawyer who allegedly offered bribe to a witness and lied about it

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board Recommendation of a one year and one day suspension for, inter alia, alleged attempts to bribe a witness and false statements denying the misconduct. The disciplinary opinion is In re: Donald R. Pryor, No: 13-DB-036 (February 5, 2015) and the disciplinary recommendation is online here: https://www.ladb.org/DR/handler.document.aspx?DocID=8353

According to the Recommendation, the Disciplinary Committee found that the following facts were established: “Respondent represented Ms. Winborn, who was charged with simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in the criminal proceeding State of Louisiana v. Emily Winborn, Case Number 498-791, Sec. A, of the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans. Mr. Bode’s neighbor saw Ms. Winborn exiting Mr. Bode’s house carrying the black camera bag where he kept his gun. When Mr. Bode returned home after the neighbor called him, he discovered that his gun was gone. Ms. Winborn was charged with entering Mr. Bode’s home and stealing a gun. Respondent came to a restaurant Mr. Bode owns with his daughter and offered him $300 to drop the charges against Ms. Winborn. During the first visit Mr. Bode told Respondent that he had found the gun and that he would not drop the charges. The day before Ms. Winborn’s trial, Respondent came to the restaurant again and offered Mr. Bode $500 not to show up in court for Ms. Winborn’s trial. Ms. Winborn was convicted of the crime.” (emphasis supplied)

The Disciplinary Committee found that “(t)his matter came down to credibility. Mr. Bode was a credible witness, with no apparent motive to lie about his interactions with Respondent. For the most part, Respondent admitted to the facts as Mr. Bode related regarding the two visits at the restaurant. The significant divergence was that Respondent contended that the payment was only restitution, and whether Respondent offered $500 to induce Mr. Bode to fail to appear at the trial.”

“(A)fter hearing the testimony, observing the witnesses demeanors, and considering the logical interpretation of the interactions, the Committee finds that Respondent went to visit Mr. Bode at the restaurant where he worked and offered him $300 as payment if he would to agree to drop the charges against Ms. Winborn. Although Respondent calls the $300 an offer of restitution, it clearly was conditioned upon Mr. Bode agreeing to drop the charges. When Mr. Bode refused, he was not paid the ‘restitution.’ Moreover, payment for the loss of the gun was not necessary because Mr. Bode told Respondent that he had found the gun.”

“The second visit, which occurred ten days later and the day before the trial, included an increased offer of $500 as payment for not showing up on the day of trial. Although Respondent attempted to show that Mr. Bode’s memory was failing, the details he did remember – along with a lack of true motive to lie either at trial or the hearing – leads the Committee to believe Mr. Bode’s version of the facts.”

“Thus, clearly the initial $300 was offered not as “restitution,” but strictly as a bribe for Mr. Bode to dismiss the charges against Respondent’s client. In addition, the $500 was offered, on the day before the trial, and as a last resort, so that Mr. Bode would not appear at the trial and thus make it more likely that the charges would be dropped. Respondent’s conduct was a criminal act reflecting adversely on Respondent’s honesty, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer, and was conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. His testimony at the hearing also involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The Disciplinary Committee recommended that the lawyer be disbarred. The Disciplinary Board adopted the Disciplinary Committee’s finding of fact and conclusions of law and finding that Respondent violated Rules 8.4(a) through (d). After confirming that “(i)t is well-settled that the baseline sanction for misconduct arising out of felony convictions involving bribery is disbarment” and discussing the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the Disciplinary Board reduced the recommended discipline to a suspension of one year and one day, which would require a showing of rehabilitation.

Bottom line: According to the Louisiana Disciplinary Board Recommendation, this lawyer offered a bribe to a witness to “fail to appear at trial” and engaged in misrepresentation, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation by denying that he offered the bribe. Notwithstanding these facts, the Board surprisingly reduced the recommended discipline from disbarment to a suspension of one year and one day. The Louisiana Supreme Court will now review the recommendation and issue a final disciplinary opinion.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670

About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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