State Supreme Court suspends Baton Rouge attorney for negligent misconduct

State Supreme Court suspends Baton Rouge attorney for negligent misconduct

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge attorney has been suspended from the practice of law for two years by the State Supreme Court. The action comes after a lawsuit was filed against him for misconduct. Walter C. Dumas admitted in the hearing, records show, that "poor accounting practices led to his negligent misconduct, noting that he did not keep or maintain complete records of his account funds or completely and accurately reconcile or balance his trust accounts on a regular or periodic basis."

According to court documents, Walter C. Dumas was an attorney for a woman after her father passed away in 2009. He was the sole manager of the trust account for the office and received $18,509.78 in client funds belonging to the estate.

The court documents show Dumas deposited the funds into a trust account at a bank. Dumas agreed to disburse the funds to the two heirs, but the bank account associated with the estate were frequently overdrawn and the heirs did not receive their money.

A review of Dumas' trust account records revealed he routinely deposited and maintained large sums of personal and client funds in the account for extended periods of time. Dumas withdrew large sums from the account by checks made payable to himself or by presenting "counter checks" made payable to cash, none of which describe or identify the reason or purpose of the payment.

Court documents say Dumas frequently and routinely paid office expenses and other law office operating charges from the account. Dumas failed to perform routine and regular inspections and/or reconciliations of the account to ensure the integrity of client funds, the court records say.

In September 2014, the Office of Disciplinary Council filed formal charges against Dumas. Dumas admitted his negligent misconduct. He also requested a hearing in mitigation, which was conducted by the hearing committee in February 2015.

During the testimony at court, Dumas argued that while there was no doubt he owed money to the heir, by the time the matter came to his attention, he discovered that he had miscalculated his accounts and had insufficient funds in the trust account to pay her, and he could not use other client monies to pay her.

He testified that he "would pay no matter how long it would take" and began gathering funds to pay her.

Ultimately, Dumas paid her through his attorney in May 2012. He took full responsibility and blamed no one but himself for the situation. He stated that he regretted the situation and admitted that he should have recognized the problem. He also admitted that he has "sloppy bookkeeping" and was glad the woman was able to get her money.

This is not the first time Walter C. Dumas has been disciplined.

According to court documents, Dumas began practicing law in Louisiana in 1972. In 1987, he was reprimanded for withholding a fee in excess of that specified in an employment contract, failing to pay third-party medical providers, and failing to place disputed funds in trust. In 1996, he was reprimanded for engaging in conduct involving incompetence, neglect, and a conflict of interest. In 2002, he was suspended from the practice of law for one year, with six months deferred, followed by a one-year period of supervised probation, for commingling client and third-party funds. In re: Dumas, 02-0149 (La. 6/7/02), 819 So. 2d 313 ("Dumas I").

Copyright WAFB 2016. All rights reserved.