Baton Rouge lawyer, Southern Board of Sups member Walter Dumas surrenders law license amid investigations _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Walter Dumas

Former Southern University Board of Supervisors member Walter Dumas and his now-defunct law firm must pay the state ethics board $138,000 for using an A.W. Mumford Stadium suite for three years without paying the rental fee, an appeals court has ruled for the second time since 2017.

The latest ruling came Friday when the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal rejected Dumas' argument that the Ethics Adjudicatory Board lacked subject matter jurisdiction when it ordered Dumas and his firm to pay the $138,000.

That sum represents yearly rental payments of $13,800 for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 football seasons, plus a $96,600 donation to the Southern University System Foundation that was payable over three years.

Dumas’ attorney, Travis Turner, declined comment Monday.

The Southern Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that supports and promotes the university. A contract with the school authorizes the Foundation to sublease stadium suites for Southern home football games and other athletic events.

The Foundation subleased 50-yard-line suites to Walter Dumas and Associates from 2001 through 2009, the 1st Circuit noted in its ruling.

Dumas became a member of the Foundation's board of directors in 2006 and a member of the university's board of supervisors in 2009.

Dumas and his law firm made stadium suite rental payments through 2005 but made none during the 2006, 2007 and 2008 football seasons, the appeals court said.

Dumas alleged that in 2006, for the millions of dollars in donations to the university for which he was responsible, then-Southern President Ralph Slaughter told him he didn't have to make the remaining payments under the sublease, the 1st Circuit noted.

In March 2009, then-Board of Supervisors member Dumas voted to fire Slaughter. The following month, Slaughter notified the Foundation that the amounts owed under Dumas' sublease were due and not paid. An invoice was sent to Dumas and his firm in June 2009 demanding the $138,000 payment.

The dispute was resolved in August 2009 when the Foundation voted to forgive any debt for suite rentals owed by Dumas or his law firm for 2006, 2007 and 2008.

A confidential source disclosed those events to the Louisiana Board of Ethics, and in late 2010 the board filed charges against Dumas and his firm alleging violations of the ethics code.

The board said Dumas violated the code by accepting forgiveness of a debt that his firm owed the Foundation while he was a member of the Southern Board of Supervisors. The board also found Dumas and his firm violated the ethics code because by subleasing a stadium suite, the firm had an interest in the stadium contract between the university and the Foundation while Dumas was a Board of Supervisors member.

After a public hearing, the Ethics Adjudicatory Board affirmed the charges and ordered Dumas and his firm to pay $138,000 to the Board of Ethics as recovery of an improper economic advantage gained by using the stadium suite for three years without payment.

Dumas and his firm appealed the Adjudicatory Board’s decision, and the 1st Circuit affirmed the decision in November 2017. In a May 2018 court filing, Dumas and his firm alleged the Adjudicatory Board did not have subject matter jurisdiction and asked that the board’s decision be voided. That filing prompted Friday’s appellate court ruling.

Dumas, who was a lawyer for more than 40 years, permanently surrendered his law license in 2016 amid a probe into what the Louisiana Supreme Court called “serious attorney misconduct.” Earlier that year, the high court had suspended Dumas for two years for his misconduct and negligence involving a client’s funds in a succession.

He also was suspended for a year in 2002 for commingling client and third-party funds.

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Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.