James Gray is obviously correct to pooh-pooh any suggestion that the suspension of his law license renders him unfit to remain on the New Orleans City Council.
Gray can’t practice law for the next two years because the state Supreme Court established that he told lies, failed to honor his commitments and glommed onto other people’s money. Think that means he is not cut out to be a politician? Where on earth are you from?
If an ability to skirt the truth is a prerequisite for success in public office hereabouts, Gray is clearly destined for higher things. He lied to his clients, he lied at his disciplinary hearing and, when his suspension was finally announced, he lied about his lies. “The allegations didn’t question my honesty,” he told reporters.
Apparently he figures that, so long as you’re telling whoppers, they might as well be bald-faced. The Supreme Court detailed Gray’s transgressions in a 21-page opinion. Dilating at that length without questioning his honesty would have been quite a trick.
In truth, the opinion leaves no doubt that Gray barely lifted a finger while assuring four of his clients over an extended period that he was beavering away on the problems that had led them to seek his help. Those clients all suffered what the court drily terms “actual harm.”
Perhaps there was a time when disgraced lawyers felt a sense of embarrassment, even contrition. If so, it is long past. Gray came out swinging. Far from regretting his copious record of neglect, he said the charges against him concerned nothing more important than “attentiveness to clients.”
See what a born politician he is? Any interest he displays in the problems of pesky taxpayers may well be fake, too.
His indifference to their welfare is evident from his antics since the charges were filed against him in 2012. He strung out his futile resistance by refusing to cooperate in the investigation. His recalcitrance, the Supreme Court found, forced the Office for Disciplinary Counsel “to unnecessarily expend its limited resources trying to sufficiently investigate the matters.”
Clearly, there is little danger that Gray will put his constituents’ interest above his own.
He breezily dismisses his suspension as having nothing “to do with my role as a city councilman.”Unless we are to entertain the quaint notion that veracity is a requirement for public office, we must once again concede that he is dead right. He may be a bad lawyer, but that doesn’t mean he is not an accomplished politician.
The Supreme Court opinion leaves no doubt that he is such a bad lawyer that the public is entitled to be alarmed at the prospect of his resuming his law practice a mere two years hence. His dealings with clients displayed a slippery nature that could give lawyers a bad name.
Take, for instance, the family that hired him to sue over the wrongful death of a jail inmate. Gray, as was evidently his habit, had done nothing to advance the case when a hearing was scheduled. He conferred with his clients in the courthouse parking lot and promised to meet them inside. When they reached the courtroom, they found he had fled. Reached by telephone, he allowed he was halfway back to his office.
The case was eventually dismissed “due to abandonment” — the right word for sure.
Gray was similarly derelict when hired by the father of a convict who wanted to withdraw his guilty plea. Gray claimed to be working on the case but did the usual nothing while the son remained behind bars. Gray did not even enroll as counsel in the case, leaving the family to find out, eventually, that it had been thrown out.
All four complainants told a story of idleness and evasion and were adjudged at the disciplinary hearing, unlike Gray, to be “credible.” When Gray did produce his case files, they were found to contain almost nothing. All the clients said contracting Gray was virtually impossible.
Gray, who had been sanctioned in 2009 for client neglect, must now submit to arbitration and return any unearned fees.
This “doesn’t change my day-to-day activities,” Gray said, because he has been a “full-time councilman” since day one. We’ll have to take his word for that.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.