A New Orleans lawyer has been permanently disbarred for spending more than $125,000 of a couple’s $500,000 settlement from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The Louisiana Supreme Court took the action against Akello Patrice Dangerfield, who has been a lawyer since 1996, saying her conduct "demonstrates a clear lack of moral fitness."
In addition to permanently disbarring Dangerfield, the Supreme Court on Thursday also ordered her to pay $127,000 in restitution to the New Orleans couple.
"Her behavior continues to cause great harm to her client and tarnish the image of the legal profession," the high court wrote.
The couple hired Dangerfield to represent their commercial construction company in a claim for losses resulting from the massive BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
The couple was awarded nearly $506,000 in December 2016, and Dangerfield received the funds from BP in March 2017. Her 15% contingency fee totaled nearly $76,000, leaving $430,000 due to the couple.
Dangerfield, however, did not inform the couple she had received the settlement funds, the Supreme Court said, and when they asked about the funds she denied receiving them.
After reviewing an online status report regarding their claim and learning that Dangerfield already had received the funds, the couple met with her in April 2017. Dangerfield tried to renegotiate her employment contract by seeking to receive a higher percentage of the couple's recovery as her fee, the high court said.
The couple refused, and Dangerfield disclosed she had already spent a significant portion of the funds and had only $303,000 left to give them, which she did that day, the court said. She agreed to give them the balance of $127,000 in 90 days but failed to do so, so the couple hired a lawyer to collect the remaining funds.
The couple also filed a complaint against Dangerfield with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an arm of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, in September 2017.
She had testified to the disciplinary board that she was caring for her mother during the time of her misconduct. Her mother died in August 2017.
Dangerfield could not be reached for comment Monday. Her law office phone number is no longer in service.
East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court records show Dangerfield has represented clients in the 19th Judicial District Court in the past.
The Supreme Court's permanent disbarment order means she can never be readmitted to the practice of law in Louisiana.
The Deepwater Horizon platform explosion killed 11 people and spewed about 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department and five states have finalized a settlement of more than $20 billion arising from the 2010 Deepwater …