(CN) – A Louisiana attorney should be suspended for two years for excessively billing a disabled client for running errands and taking him to Wal-Mart, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board recommended.
The board on June 25 recommended that the Louisiana Supreme Court suspens Katherine Guste due to accusations of misconduct in her dealings with two clients.
One client, Anthony Perniciaro, suffered from Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that impairs muscle coordination, cognitive function and causes psychiatric problems.
Guste was hired to prepare Perniciaro a power of attorney and represent him in a hit-and-run collision, according to Disciplinary Board hearing committee’s report from July 2011.
“Upon completion of this representation, you provided services for Mr. Perniciaro which included, but were not limited to: (1) taking him to his financial establishments to deliver a copy of the power of attorney document, (2) meeting with Mr. Perniciaro to discuss his possibly moving to a new residence, (3) packing Mr. Perniciaro’s household belongings in preparation for his move to a new residence, (4) preparing document to cancel power of attorney, (5) taking Mr. Perniciaro to a wireless telephone company in order to obtain service and to a local cable company to cancel and transfer service, and (6) taking Mr. Perniciaro to Wal-Mart to purchase a television and personal necessities. You charged for a conference with Mr. Perniciaro to discuss reducing your fee from $125.00 to $50.00 and when you packed and returned his financial documents,” the report stated.
Perniciaro was 63 years old at the time of the representation and has since passed away.
The report adds: “You testified in a sworn statement that you were aware of Mr. Perniciaro’s condition prior to providing services. You explained that the administrator at the nursing home where Mr. Perniciaro resided advised you of his condition and the effects. You also advised that you had conducted your own research regarding the disease and that you understood the effects.”
Although the hearing committee’s report recommended disbarment, the disciplinary board reduced the recommended sanction to a two-year suspension.
“The Board finds that the disbarment recommended by the Committee to be too harsh a sanction considering the pertinent case law which addresses lawyers who violated Rule 1.5 by overcharging their clients,” the disciplinary board said.
Guste represented the other client, Craig Conners, in a divorce proceeding.
“Respondent failed to provide an accounting and failed to refund unearned fees to [Conners], failed to communicate with him, failed to withdraw from his case, and failed to return the file to him or to his new attorney,” the disciplinary board found.
It recommended that Guste pay restitution to the heirs of Perniciaro and refund unearned fees to Conners.