The state Supreme Court has ordered the permanent disbarment of a Mamou attorney after he allegedly skimmed $75,000 off his client’s settlement in the Deepwater Horizon case.
Timmy James Fontenot was permanently disbarred by the court last week, records indicate. Fontenot already was disbarred for other alleged misdeeds; this action means he cannot ever be readmitted to the practice of law in Louisiana. He also has to repay the $75,000 to a Louisiana law firm, which paid the money to the client after it discovered the incident.
Fontenot was admitted to the bar in 1995, and by 2011 he was before the court with a consent discipline plan. He admitted then to neglecting a legal matter, failing to communicate with a client, charging an excessive fee and had made misrepresentations. At that time he was suspended for a year – but that suspension was deferred and he was placed on probation for two years.
In 2015, he faced formal charges from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel after he allegedly forged his clients’ signatures on settlement documents to settle their case without their permission and spent their money. The court disbarred him again in November 2017 for this, and ordered that he couldn’t apply for readmission until 2020.
The case that resulted in a permanent disbarment began in 2013, when a client of Fontenot’s began to proceed with a claim following the oil spill in January 2013. Fontenot, along with another attorney, referred the case to a law firm and Fontenot was designated as the liason between that firm and his client.
In April 2016, the client received a settlement offer and accepted it. The money was sent to the firm, which processed it and put together all the documents and the checks – one for the client and one for the attorney’s fees for Fontenot and the other attorney.
The client was supposed to get a check for $276,214.02, the records show. Instead, the client got a check for $200,214.02. Then, a month later, Fontenot called the firm, asking where the client’s money was. The firm called the client, who told them he’d been given the check for $200,214.02 and had signed a release.
One of the attorneys at the firm called Fontenot and told him to issue a check to the client for $275,214.02 immediately, and Fontenot said he did – even sending a copy of his trust account check in that amount. However, the records say, that check never cleared because Fontenot only wrote it to convince the firm that he had done as ordered.
When confronted with all of this, the records say, Fontenot said he didn’t write the check as ordered because he didn’t have the money. So, the firm called the client and asked him not to deposit the check. They deposited another $75,000 into Fontenot’s trust account, and he wrote a check for the correct amount and sent it to his client.
The firm and the attorney who had been working with Fontenot filed formal complaint against him with the ODC, and when that office began investigating Fontenot but he didn’t show up for scheduled appointments and didn’t turn over documents that had been subpoenaed. After several tries, the ODC filed formal charges and a hearing was set – but Fontenot didn’t show up for that, either. Because there was sufficient evidence to prove the charges were accurate and he didn’t respond, the allegations were classified as “admitted,” the records show. He was given a chance to file objections or evidence after that, but still Fontenot did not respond, the records show.
The court found that Fontenot’s “skullduggery” included forging his client’s signature on a check, creation of false document to cover his tracks, failed to cooperate with ODC in its investigation, and “converting” $75,000 of his client’s money.
To read the record regarding the court’s ruling, click here.