Prominent lawyer Walter C. Dumas on Thursday had his law licenses suspended for two years for his misconduct and negligence involving a client’s funds in a succession his firm handled seven years ago.
In its ruling Thursday, the Louisiana Supreme Court claims the Baton Rouge lawyer did not pay one of the heirs in the case until after she filed a complaint in October 2011 with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel — that was more than a year after the succession proceedings had concluded.
“His misconduct was rooted in negligence,” the ruling states. “His lapses demonstrate a deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable lawyer would exercise, particularly since respondent was previously disciplined for the same type of misconduct.”
Dumas, who has practiced law for more than 40 years, was the first black person appointed to an ad hoc judgeship on the Baton Rouge City Court. In addition to various memberships in notable church and civic organizations throughout the city, Dumas once served on Southern University’s Board of Supervisors.
Dumas did not return an email or calls to his office Thursday for comment.
He admitted to his misconduct and “sloppy bookkeeping” during Office of Disciplinary Counsel proceedings and is described in the ruling as being cooperative and taking full responsibility for his firm’s actions.
According to the ruling, a woman hired an associate from Dumas’ law firm in 2009 to represent her in the handling of her father’s assets following his death.
Dumas, the sole manager of the firm’s trust account, received $18,509 in funds that were supposed to be divided between the deceased’s spouse and daughter.
Dumas paid the man’s wife the $11,105, that was owed to her, but the daughter was supposed to receive $7,403, the ruling reads.
Dumas testified in disciplinary proceedings he first learned the daughter hadn’t received her share of the estate in June 2011 after she contacted him.
The ruling says Dumas claimed an associate made an error and issued one check to the wife and the second to the wife’s attorneys.
By the time he learned about the mix-up, Dumas testified he had miscalculated his trust accounts and didn’t have enough money available to pay the daughter immediately, the ruling says.
The daughter filed a disciplinary complaint against Dumas in October 2011, even after he promised to “pay no matter how long it would take,” the ruling states.
Dumas ended up paying the woman through her new attorneys in May 2012.
A forensic accountant hired by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel reviewed Dumas’ trust account and testified during hearings that Dumas had paid himself $14,550 from the trust account.
The ruling says Dumas would withdraw large sums from the account by writing checks to himself or by presenting counter checks made payable to cash. Those transactions lacked any explanations or identifying purposes for the payments.
“There was no way to know on any given day whether money in the account belonged to (Dumas) or to his clients,” the ruling describes the forensic account’s testimony, “and she had no confidence in (Dumas’) ability to make that determination either.”
Dumas has been dinged in the past for poor mismanagement of client funds and accusations of incompetence.
In 1987, Dumas was reprimanded for withholding fees in excess of what was specified in an employment contract, failing to pay third-party medical providers and not depositing disputed funds in a trust.
Then, in 1996, Dumas was reprimanded for engaging in behavior deemed incompetent, negligent and a conflict of interest.
In 2002, he was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on a yearlong supervised probation for commingling client and third-party funds, according to court records.
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