Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
In re: JUDGE G. Michael Canaday
In Louisiana v. Bartie, 14th Judicial District Court Case Number 12615-16, Div. G, Judge Michael Canaday presided over multiple hearings relating to the defendant’s indigency and his request for ancillary funding for defense experts. Because the hearings involved the disclosure of defense strategy, they were conducted without the district attorney, and the transcripts were sealed. Judge Canaday found the defendant was not indigent and denied his request for funding. The defense filed a writ application with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal challenging the indigency ruling. To facilitate filing the application, Judge Canaday granted defense counsel’s request for transcripts of the hearings. After defense counsel moved to obtain a missing transcript, Judge Canaday ordered the transcript be given to defense counsel and handwrote that it be “release[d] from seal.” Judge Canaday then received an email from the district attorney’s office asking whether his order gave the district attorney’s office access to the transcripts, or only defense counsel and the Third Circuit. Defense counsel was not copied with this email. Judge Canaday replied: “Since I don’t believe the state could appeal my granting relief to the defense on funding, I don’t think they can support the courts [sic] position to deny. The courts [sic] reasons will be sufficient for the 3rd to review. If the 3rd requests a states [sic] response obviously they could access the record.” Defense counsel was not included in these communications. The district attorney’s office then filed a “Motion to Unseal All Documents and Transcripts in Regards to Determining Indigency of the Defendant.” This motion was styled neither ex parte nor unopposed. Without a hearing, Judge Canaday signed an order granting the district attorney’s office the requested relief. Defense counsel did not have an opportunity to respond. The materials released by Judge Canaday included a transcript of a closed hearing where defense strategy specific to Bartie was discussed, including experts and their expected testimony. Defense counsel successfully argued for Judge Canaday’s recusal from the Bartie case. Writ applications seeking reversal of the recusal were denied by both the Third Circuit and the Louisiana Supreme Court. The recusal and subsequent related writ applications resulted in the expenditure of significant time, effort, and funds by both the state and defense counsel. There were negative media reports concerning Judge Canaday’s actions. Media reports prompted a Judiciary Commission investigation. The Commission found Judge Canaday engaged in improper ex parte communications and inappropriately granted a state motion to release documents from seal without holding a hearing or otherwise allowing defense counsel the opportunity to respond. The Commission recommended that he be publicly censured and pay costs. The Louisiana Supreme Court concurred with the censure recommendation. View "In re: JUDGE G. Michael Canaday" on Justia Law
Sebble v. St. Luke’s #2, LLC d/b/a St. Luke’s Living Center, et al.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this medical malpractice matter in order to consider whether the gross negligence standard of La.R.S. 29:771(B)(2)(c) was to be considered by a medical review panel when the medical treatment occurred during a declared state of public health emergency pursuant to La.R.S. 29:766(A). To this, the Court found the trial court did not err in declaring that La.R.S. 29:771(B)(2)(c) should not be considered or applied in medical review panel proceedings and, therefore, did not err in granting Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. Likewise, the court of appeal did not err in its affirmation. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sebble v. St. Luke's #2, LLC d/b/a St. Luke's Living Center, et al." on Justia Law
The Cartesian Company, inc. v. Div. of Admin. Law Ethics Adj. Bd. Panel, et al.
The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review involved the constitutionality a part of the Louisiana Ethics Code, La. R.S. 42:1113(B). Specifically, the Court reviewed whether the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs-respondents, The Cartesian Company, Inc. (“Cartesian”) and Greg Gachassin (collectively “Plaintiffs”). The trial court ruled that the words “in any way interested in” contained in La. R.S. 42:1113(B) “are hereby struck down, and declared of no effect, as violating both the Federal and State Constitutions because these words . . . are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad . . . as interpreted and applied” to Plaintiffs. The trial court also denied the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants-respondents, Division of Administration Law Ethics Adjudicatory Board (Panel A) (“EAB”) and the Louisiana Board of Ethics (“BOE”)(collectively “BOE”). Defendants appealed, and the matter was transferred by the appellate court as a direct appeal to the Supreme Court pursuant to La. Const. Art. V, § 5(D). The Supreme Court found the trial court erred in finding the phrase “in any way interested in” facially unconstitutionally overbroad. Accordingly, it reversed this portion of the judgment. However, the Supreme Court found the trial court correctly determined the phrase was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Plaintiffs and unconstitutionally vague on its face as to all of its applications. As a result, the phrase “or be in any way interested in” was hereby struck from La. R.S. 42:1113(B). The remainder of the statute remained viable and could stand. Accordingly, this portion of the trial court’s judgment was affirmed, amended in part, and affirmed as amended. View "The Cartesian Company, inc. v. Div. of Admin. Law Ethics Adj. Bd. Panel, et al." on Justia Law
Medical Review Panel for the Claim of Richard Bush
On November 21, 2017, Richard Bush presented to Saint Bernard Parish Hospital for depression and suicidal ideations. At the hospital, Dr. Miguel Aguilera treated and discharged him. Bush attempted re-admittance with the same complaints, but was refused re-admittance. Thereafter, Bush attempted suicide in the hospital bathroom. He was found alive and transported to University Hospital in New Orleans for treatment; however, he succumbed to his injuries from the suicide attempt and died on November 30, 2017. In November 2018, his wife, Patricia Bush, on behalf of herself, her daughters, Madalyn and Ashley Bush, and on behalf of the decedent, Richard Bush, filed a formal pro se complaint with the Patient Compensation Fund (“PCF”) to convene a medical review panel (“MRP”), naming Saint Bernard Parish Hospital and Dr. Aguilera for malpractice relating to Richard Bush's death. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application in order to determine: (1) whether contra non valentem interrupted prescription; and (2) whether the court of appeal erred in relying on documents that were not entered as evidence and were not part of the record. The Court found that, while contra non valentem may interrupt prescription in a wrongful death claim in certain instances, it did not interrupt prescription in this case due to the fact that the court of appeal incorrectly considered documents that were not in evidence. The Court reversed the court of appeal’s ruling in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Medical Review Panel for the Claim of Richard Bush" on Justia Law
In re Judge Jerry Denton, Jr.
The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (“the Commission”) recommended to discipline Judge Jerry L. Denton, Jr., City Court Judge of Denham Springs, Louisiana. A complaint against Judge Denton was filed by attorney Maria Finley to the Office of Special Counsel (the “OSC”). Finley was retained by Stephanie Bardeau-Marse to file a petition to intervene in a Child in Need of Care proceeding (“CINC proceeding”) in which Judge Denton presided. While the case was pending before Judge Denton, he responded and initiated improper ex parte communications with Bardeau-Marse. These improper ex parte communications precipitated other misconduct, which led to the complaint, a Notice of Hearing from the OSC to Judge Denton, and an investigation by OSC. The Louisiana Supreme Court found Judge Denton violated Canons 1, 2A, 3A(6), and specified portions of 3A(4) and 3C of the Louisiana Code of Judicial Conduct (1996), and specified portions of La. Const. art. V, section 25(C)(1974). The Court found a suspension from office without pay for four months and payment of costs incurred by the Commission for $4,676.25 was an appropriate sanction. View "In re Judge Jerry Denton, Jr." on Justia Law
Louisiana v. Covington
In consolidated cases, Michael Mitchell, Chief Indigent Defender for the Office of Public Defender for East Baton Rouge Parish, filed a “Motion to Withdraw from Current Appointments and to Decline Future Appointments” in 2018 in each of these Nineteenth Judicial District Court (“19th JDC”), Section VI cases. Mitchell alleged that long term chronic underfunding of the public defender’s office had necessitated the implementation of “service restriction protocols,” pursuant to La. Administrative Code, Title 22, Section 1701 et seq., and led to the elimination of a number of attorney and support staff positions. Mitchell asserted that the consequent increase in the workloads of the remaining attorneys could potentially create conflicts of interest, as counsel might have to allot more time to one case over another, and could potentially cause ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. In response (which were confined to 19th JDC, Section VI cases), the State filed motions for dismissal of the motions for withdrawal and Daubert objections to expert testimony relative to the La. Project since it was based on the “Delphi Method,” contending, inter alia, that the Delphi Method produced unreliable generalized conclusions about the Louisiana public defender system and, further, that Louisiana v. Peart, 621 So.2d 780 (La. 1993), required individualized findings as to whether there has been ineffective assistance of counsel in each specific case. The district court ruled in favor of the State, implicitly finding that any remedy related to chronic underfunding of the public defender system was within the exclusive purview of the Louisiana Legislature and was outside the parameters of what the court had the authority to fashion; however, the court stated that it would consider any individual motions to withdraw from, or to decline, representation on a case-by-case basis. Thereafter, the appellate court granted the district public defender’s writ application, in part, to reverse the district court’s denial of the motions to withdraw, to vacate the district court orders appointing the public defender in the remaining ongoing consolidated cases, and to grant the request to allow the named public defenders to withdraw from future representation of indigent defendants “until the caseloads are no greater than 100% of his or her annual capacity.” The Louisiana Supreme Court found the appellate court's conclusion was reached without evidence of the specific factual details surrounding the work performance of the individual assistant public defenders: "the question of whether assistance of counsel has been constitutionally ineffective cannot be answered without a detailed examination of the specific facts and circumstances of the representation provided by counsel to the individual defendant. Therefore, the appellate court erred in reversing the district court and ruling in favor of Mr. Mitchell." The district court's rulings were reinstated. View "Louisiana v. Covington" on Justia Law
Ewing v. Westport Ins. Co., et al.
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether “collectibility” was a relevant consideration in a legal malpractice action. Specifically, the issue presented was whether plaintiff’s damages in this legal malpractice action were limited to the amount she could have actually collected on a judgment against the tortfeasor in the underlying lawsuit. Elaine Ewing was injured in an automobile accident in 2015, when her vehicle was hit by a vehicle driven by Marc Melancon. Her counsel failed to forward the original petition for damages within seven days as required by La. R.S. 13:850. The original petition was filed on April 22, 2016, after the one-year prescriptive period had passed. Ms. Ewing’s suit was dismissed on an exception of prescription. Ms. Ewing subsequently filed a legal malpractice action against her attorney and Westport Insurance Corporation, counsel's malpractice insurer. Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment asserting the court should apply the “collectibility rule.” Defendants alleged Ms. Ewing’s recovery could be no greater than her potential recovery in the underlying personal injury lawsuit, and recovery in this case should have been capped at Mr. Melancon’s insurance policy limits. The Supreme Court held that proof of collectibility of an underlying judgment was not an element necessary for a plaintiff to establish a claim for legal malpractice, nor could collectibility be asserted by an attorney as an affirmative defense in a legal malpractice action. View "Ewing v. Westport Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law
In re: Justice of the Peace Cody King, Ward 6, Morehouse Parish
The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana filed a disciplinary proceeding against respondent, Justice of the Peace Cody King on one count that alleged respondent violated Canons 1, 2, 2A, 3A(1), 3A(7), and 3B(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct (1996) and La. Const. Art. V, section 25(C). In 2018, the Attorney General's Office filed the first of three complaints against Respondent with the Office of Special Counsel of the Commission, asserting that Respondent failed to respond to constituents in his district, and likewise failed to respond to letters or calls from the Attorney General's office. In 2019, Hannah Zaunbrecher filed a complaint, asserting: (1) Respondent was difficult to reach; (2) he overcharged Ms. Zaunbrecher for an eviction she filed; (3) he did not set a court date in the eviction matter despite repeated requests from Ms. Zaunbrecher after the eviction was filed; and (4) Respondent failed to refund the unearned filing fee. The OSC sent letters to Respondent notifying him of each complaint. Respondent did not reply despite later acknowledging that he received them. After a hearing on these charges, the Commission filed a recommendation with the Louisiana Supreme Court concluding that the above violations had been proven. To this, the Supreme Court agreed with the Commission’s recommendation, and ordered the removal of Respondent from office, that he reimburse the Commission the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of the case, and further, that he pay restitution for an unearned filing fee he failed to return to Parish Leasing Company, LLC. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Cody King, Ward 6, Morehouse Parish" on Justia Law
Thomas v. Regional Health System of Acadiana, LLC.
Mariah Charles was born prematurely in October 2014 at Lafayette General Medical Center (LGMC) and hospitalized there until transferred to Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Lafayette (W&C). She was released in April 2015 release. Dr. Geeta Dalal, a pediatric cardiologist with clinical privileges at both hospitals, contributed to Mariah’s care during and after Mariah’s hospitalization. While Mariah remained at LGMC, Dr. Dalal ordered and interpreted eight echocardiograms that, according to the petition, revealed abnormal findings that could cause pulmonary artery hypertension. The petition alleged Dr. Dalal took no action other than ordering additional echocardiograms. After Mariah’s transfer to W&C, Dr. Dalal interpreted three more echocardiograms, again noted abnormalities, and allegedly failed to properly diagnose or treat Mariah. On May 8, Mariah was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at W&C and examined by another pediatric cardiologist who diagnosed pulmonary artery hypertension. Mariah was transferred by helicopter to Children’s Hospital of New Orleans where medical staff confirmed the diagnosis and performed a heart catheterization procedure. Mariah’s mother, Megan Thomas (Thomas), initiated Medical Review Panel proceedings with the Patient’s Compensation Fund against Dr. Dalal and the hospital defendants, alleging medical malpractice and seeking damages for their alleged failure to properly diagnose and treat Mariah. In addition to the Medical Review Panel proceedings, Thomas filed suit against the hospitals: The Regional Health System of Acadiana, LLC, Women’s & Children’s Hospital, Inc., HCA Holdings, Inc. W&C, and LGMC. The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on allegations of negligent credentialing against Dr. Dalal, and whether those allegations fell within the scope of the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, or alternatively, sounded in general negligence. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, and reinstated the trial court's judgment sustaining the hospital defendants' exceptions of prematurity. View "Thomas v. Regional Health System of Acadiana, LLC." on Justia Law
Donelon v. Shilling
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether the Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance was bound by an arbitration clause in an agreement between a health insurance cooperative and a third-party contractor. The Louisiana Health Cooperative, Inc. (“LAHC”), a health insurance cooperative created in 2011 pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, entered an agreement with Milliman, Inc. for actuarial and other services. By July 2015, the LAHC was out of business and allegedly insolvent. The Insurance Commissioner sought a permanent order of rehabilitation relative to LAHC. The district court entered an order confirming the Commissioner as rehabilitator and vesting him with authority to enforce contract performance by any party who had contracted with the LAHC. The Commissioner then sued multiple defendants in district court, asserting claims against Milliman for professional negligence, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation. According to that suit, the acts or omissions of Milliman caused or contributed to the LAHC’s insolvency. Milliman responded by filing a declinatory exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the Commissioner must arbitrate his claims pursuant to an arbitration clause in the agreement between the LAHC and Milliman. The Supreme Court concluded, however, the Commissioner was not bound by the arbitration agreement and accordingly could not be compelled to arbitrate its claims against Millman. The Court reversed the appellate court's judgment holding to the contrary, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Donelon v. Shilling" on Justia Law