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Joseph Mole didn’t personally know Thomas Porteous, a former federal judge in Louisiana who was impeached in 2010. Mole, unlike some lawyers, never gave Porteous money and gifts. But after Porteous was removed from the bench, Mole was one of five attorneys charged with ethics violations.
Mole got into trouble, according to the ethics complaint, for hiring a lawyer who was friends with Porteous to work on a case pending before the judge. Mole said he acted at his client’s request after the opposing side hired two lawyers who were close to Porteous. The goal was to level the playing field in terms of access and insight, according to Mole, a veteran litigator who leads the commercial litigation group at Frilot LLC in New Orleans.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, sitting as a full court, found otherwise. The court determined that Mole’s goal in bringing on Porteous’ friend Donald Gardner was to force Porteous to recuse—a violation of Louisiana’s ethics rules. The lower court in June 2015 ordered Mole suspended from practicing for one year, with six months deferred. Mole appealed.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision.
Mole had argued that the district court wrongly disregarded the findings of the judge who initially reviewed his case. U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan had credited Mole’s version of events and recommended dismissing the ethics charges. The court, Berrigan wrote, “should recognize that the minefield Mr. Mole successfully navigated was caused by a failure of the judiciary.”
Fifth Circuit judges Rhesa Barksdale, Edith Clement and Catharina Haynes said the district court wasn’t bound by Berrigan’s findings and recommendation. The lower court interpreted its own rules to allow for an independent review of the case. That was the “most rational and logical interpretation available,” the appeals judge wrote. Otherwise, they said, the district court’s disciplinary authority would be meaningless.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Mole said he would not challenge the ruling. He said he had already served the suspension and was reinstated to practice in January.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised. It is what it is. It’s been a long fight and I’m glad it’s over,” Mole said. He was represented on appeal by E. Phelps Gay of Christovich & Kearney in New Orleans.
Patricia Ann Krebs of King, Krebs & Jurgens, who argued for the Lawyer Disciplinary Committee of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, was not immediately reached for comment.
Read the original article at The National Law Journal.