On Thursday, November 2, 2023, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board recommended sanctions for disbarred Attorney Richard Forrest White for abandoning a client.

The case is titled ‘In the Matter of Richard Forrest White’ with case no. 23-DB-028.

The cited violations involve Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.16, 8.1, and 8.4  of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct, which state that:

A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client;

A lawyer shall keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

A lawyer shall promptly comply with reasonable requests for information;

A lawyer shall consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests, such as giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and refunding any advance payment of fee or expense that has not been earned or incurred.

Upon written request by the client, the lawyer shall promptly release to the client or the client’s new lawyer the entire file relating to the matter. The lawyer may retain a copy of the file but shall not condition release over issues relating to the expense of copying the file or for any other reason. The responsibility for the cost of copying shall be determined in an appropriate proceeding.

An applicant for admission to the bar, or a lawyer in connection with a bar admission application or in connection with a disciplinary matter, shall not fail to cooperate with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in its investigation of any matter before it except for an openly expressed claim of a constitutional privilege.

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another.

The Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.

This disciplinary matter originated from Attorney Forrest’s representation of a client seeking damages from a vehicular accident.

On September 3, 2016, James Cordell Zeno was involved in a car accident while riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by Colleen Gotte. Gotte’s vehicle, which was insured by State Farm, collided with another vehicle insured by Go Auto.

Seeking legal representation, Zeno and Gotte hired attorney Steve Sikich to represent their respective interests regarding damages from the crash. However, a conflict of interest arose between Zeno and Gotte, so Sikich terminated his representation of Zeno and referred the case to another attorney, Richard Forrest White.

On September 1, 2017, Attorney White agreed to take on Zeno’s case and filed a petition for damages on his behalf in the 31st Judicial District Court in Jefferson Davis Parish. The case was titled James Zeno v. Chad Chaisson, et al. However, after filing the initial petition, Attorney White took no further action on Zeno’s case.

Over the next few years, Zeno made repeated attempts to contact Attorney White to get updates on his lawsuit, but White never responded or communicated with his client in any way. Without any additional filings or progress made, Zeno’s suit began to be abandoned by operation of law. Attorney White also failed to keep Zeno reasonably informed about the status of his case or comply with requests for information, violating his communication duties

Meanwhile, in an unrelated matter, Attorney White faced allegations of misconduct that resulted in his disbarment by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2023.

On August 13, 2022, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board received a complaint from Zeno regarding Attorney White’s handling of his case. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel opened an investigative file and sent copies of the complaint to Attorney White on August 25, 2022, and September 6, 2022, via certified mail and email. However, White did not respond to the complaint’s allegations.

Investigator Debbie Beaird made attempts to personally serve Attorney White with the complaint on September 8 and November 21, 2022, finally locating him while he awaited a pre-trial conference on pending criminal charges. Despite receiving actual notice on November 21, 2022, Attorney White still failed to provide any response to the disciplinary complaint.

Considering Attorney White’s violations of his duties to Zeno as well as his failure to cooperate with the disciplinary investigation, he faces additional charges on top of the disbarment resulting from his prior misconduct.

In determining the appropriate sanction, the committee acknowledged the baseline sanction for Attorney White’s misconduct would normally be a suspension. However, due to Attorney White’s prior disbarment overlapping the same time period, the committee decided no greater sanction was warranted.

Rather than an additional disbarment, the committee recommended that Attorney White be assessed with all the costs and expenses of the proceedings and if ever he applies for reinstatement, he must address all violations from both disciplinary matters. He will have to convince the reinstatement panel that he has rehabilitated himself and re-earned the privilege to represent clients once more. Only after considering the misconduct collectively would the committee deem Attorney White fit to potentially resume practice.

In part, the recommendation reads:

“Respondent essentially gave up the practice of law and just ignored his pending clients and the responsibilities associated with their representation. We recommend that the Respondent be assessed with all costs and expenses of these proceedings pursuant to Rule XIX§10.1 and that any future consideration of an application for reinstatement includes these charges.”

According to Avvo, Attorney Richard Forrest White is based in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He acquired his license to practice in the state in 1994.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.