NEW ORLEANS, LA — There is growing concern that out-of-state attorneys are improperly soliciting workers who were on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when it exploded April 20 and fishermen who are working to contain the resulting leak.
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has received two formal written complaints and an “escalating” number of informal complaints, said Chief Disciplinary Counsel Charles Plattsmier. Investigators are fanning out across the state to determine whether the complaints are credible.
So far, one of the formal complaints has been referred to the attorney’s home state authorities for disciplinary measures. The alleged victim was on the sunken rig and lives in northern Louisiana, Plattsmier said. He declined to reveal the attorney’s name, home state or further details of the case, citing Supreme Court confidentiality rules.
There are several unconfirmed reports of “runners,” or unlicensed middlemen soliciting business on behalf of attorneys, Plattsmier said. The practice is a felony in Louisiana and could subject violators to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Many complaints involve direct personal or telephone solicitation in the absence of previous attorney-client relationships, which violates the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. The most egregious violation, still unconfirmed, involves a law firm handing out checks to induce potential clients, Plattsmier said.
George Barasich, president of the Louisiana Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said he has received 12 calls with similar complaints, which spread beyond Louisiana’s borders. One of those complaints concerns an attorney in Mississippi attempting to induce fishermen with rounds of drinks.
Barasich is concerned that the large number of meetings and trainings for fishers working on containment operations creates an opening for unscrupulous attorneys.
“You got a whole pile of potential clients,” he said.
Barasich does not know whether any fishermen have actually hired attorneys after being improperly solicited. Paid association members have access to an attorney on pro bono retainer, Barasich said.
“But a very small portion of fishermen actually belong to any one of the associations,” he added.
Ben Meyers is a staff writer for New Orleans City Business, a sister publication of The Daily Record.