On Thursday, February 1, 2024, the Supreme Court of Louisiana extended attorney Tara Elwell’s probationary term and revised the conditions of her disciplinary sanctions stemming from charging an excessive fee without documentation.
The case is entitled “In the Matter of Tara Elwell,” with case no. 2022-B-0390.
Elwell had previously been sanctioned in April 2022 for charging over $100,000 for a relatively simple task involving the appointment of a successor trustee for a client’s grandson, without providing billing records to support the fee. She entered into a consent agreement requiring her to undergo fee arbitration through the Louisiana State Bar Association Fee Dispute Arbitration Program to resolve the violation. However, the program declined to accept the matter last year.
Rather than notifying the court or initiating arbitration through another service, Elwell took no action. This prompted the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to request revising her probation terms to require using an alternative arbitration program at her expense. Elwell opposed this, arguing it would be too costly.
At issue was how to handle a situation where an agreed-upon probation condition became impossible to fulfill. Exercising its authority over attorney discipline matters, the court extended Elwell’s probation for another year. It ordered her and the ODC to mutually select a third-party arbitrator, to be paid for by Elwell, to resolve the violation.
Once selected, she must initiate arbitration and abide by the arbitrator’s ruling regarding the excessive fee charge. Additionally, Elwell is now required to return $75,000 to her former client’s trust account pending the outcome.
In a partial dissent, one justice argued Elwell’s original sanction did not adequately address the violation. The majority signed on granting her the year-long extension with revised conditions.
According, to avvo.com, Ms. Tara Elwell is a probate attorney in Lafayette, Louisiana. She attended Loyola University School of Law and was licensed in Louisiana in 2007.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.