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James Gray

New Orleans City Councilman James Gray is such a devoted son that he has never tired of proving the wisdom of what he learned growing up.

“The way my parents raised me, once they caught me not telling the truth, they didn't believe anything I said,” he proclaimed in the middle of the council's inquisition of the Sewerage and Water Board.

After it came out that, contrary to official reassurances, several pumps were out of commission during the latest great flood, the council piled on while Gray chimed in with the precepts of his upbringing.

The Louisiana Supreme Court will echo them, for Gray, already suspended from his profession as an attorney for neglecting and swindling clients, now faces further sanctions. He could give Louisiana politicians a bad name.

Those politicians are evidently unfazed by his professional disgraces, however, as he prepares to face a handful of challengers in the upcoming election. The weekend before he evoked charming childhood scenes when berating the S&WB, he held a birthday party-cum-fundraiser at the Lakefront Airport.

The campaign committee included U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, three of Gray's fellow council members and a whole slew of civic worthies.

We don't know how Gray reacted when caught in some long-ago delinquency by his parents, but he has certainly been unabashed by the Supreme Court's acerbities. When he first lost his law license in 2015, he said, “The allegations and fines have nothing to do with, first of all, my honesty nor my New Orleans City Council work.”

Half of that is a lie bald-faced enough to bespeak years of practice. Gray was suspended for serial dishonesty. The other half of the proposition is debatable; while suspended attorneys are entitled to perform legislative duties, more fastidious constituents might wish to consider character at election time. Right. We probably don't have enough such voters to worry Gray.

But anyone perusing his disciplinary record will wonder whether an attorney so quick to leave his clients in the lurch can be trusted in the role of the people's champion. The Supreme Court yanked his law license in 2015 after finding that, in four unrelated cases, he failed to take the promised action on behalf of his clients and either neglected to communicate with them or gave them false information.

On one occasion he left some clients in a courthouse parking lot and told them he would meet them inside for a hearing in their case. When they followed, he was nowhere to be found and, reached by phone, explained that he was on the way back to his office.

The Supreme Court also found that Gray failed to return unearned fees and refused to cooperate when the Office of Disciplinary Counsel investigated complaints. Gray was ordered to reimburse the clients he had stiffed but did not cough up until late last year when exposed by the media. Meanwhile, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel had Gray in its sights again.

Had he been diligent in his professional life, Gray would have been more familiar with the workings of the S&WB before he had occasion to regale its executives with his morality tale.

When a former client claimed that Gray had failed to pursue a complaint against the board and kept him in the dark, the disciplinary office launched an investigation but made no progress.

Gray dodged all attempts to get his side of the story, so he was charged with refusing to cooperate with the disciplinary office. Gray failed to file any response and was duly recommended for a further two-year suspension. He will also be responsible for costs.

It is by means certain that Gray will be in the clear when his term of suspension is over, for he will require the Supreme Court's permission to be readmitted to the bar. Maybe he won't bother to apply, for it is hard to see why anyone would want to hire an attorney with his record.

Still, he clearly has the nerve to try anything if he can keep a straight face when haranguing the S&WB for telling lies.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.