Stealing Settlement Funds from Clients Deserves Disbarment
Akello Patrice Dangerfield, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, was referred to the Supreme Court for discipline in the case: In Re: Akello Patrice Dangerfield, NO. 2020-B-0116, Supreme Court Of Louisiana (May 14, 2020) after formal charges were filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) against Akello Patrice Dangerfield, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana, but currently ineligible to practice.
Kenneth and Paula Laborde retained Dangerfield to represent their company, TekCrete, Inc., in connection with a claim for losses resulting from the BP oil spill. Dangerfield accepted the representation for a 15% contingency fee.
In December 2016, the Labordes were awarded $505,882.94 for their TekCrete claim. The Labordes were pleased with this amount and did not wish to seek an appeal. Dangerfield received the funds from BP on March 7, 2017. Her 15% contingency fee totaled $75,882.44, leaving the sum of $430,000.50 due to TekCrete.
Dangerfield did not inform the Labordes that she had received TekCrete’s funds, and when they asked her about the funds, Dangerfield denied that she had already received them. The Labordes finally reviewed an online status report regarding their claim and learned that Dangerfield had already received the funds.
The Labordes met with Dangerfield who attempted to renegotiate her employment contract, seeking to receive a higher percentage of TekCrete’s recovery as her fee. The Labordes refused to agree to alter the contract. Dangerfield then disclosed to the Labordes that she had received the BP funds, but had already spent a significant portion of the funds and had only $303,000 left to disburse to TekCrete. On that day, Dangerfield paid the Labordes $303,000. She agreed to give them the balance of $127,000.50 within ninety days. Following the expiration of the delay, Dangerfield still did not disburse the remaining funds.
Dangerfield admitted that after she received TekCrete’s funds, she paid $100,000 to another individual as a referral fee an act known as using a runner or a capper – a crime. Dangerfield conceded she did this without the Labordes’ authorization or knowledge. Dangerfield has yet to repay the Labordes any portion of the $127,000.50 she owes.
Dangerfield failed to answer the formal charges. No formal hearing was held and Dangerfield filed nothing in her defense.
In its submission, the ODC argued that the appropriate sanction for Dangerfield’s misconduct is permanent disbarment.
Hearing Committee Report
After considering the ODC’s submission, the hearing committee accepted that the factual allegations contained in the formal charges were deemed admitted upon Dangerfield’s failure to file an answer. Based on those facts, the committee determined that Dangerfield violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as alleged in the formal charges and that Dangerfield violated duties owed to her client, the public, and the legal profession. In addition, Dangerfield willfully converted over $120,000 in client funds and then made no meaningful attempt to restore these funds to the rightful owners thereof. She admitted to the theft and promised to restore the funds, to no avail. Her conversion of the funds, for which restitution has not been made, caused her client direct, significant, and actual harm. Her conduct also tarnished the image of the legal profession in the eyes of her clients and in the eyes of the public.
The board determined that Dangerfield violated duties owed to her client, the public, the legal system, and the legal profession. She acted intentionally. Her misconduct caused actual harm to her client and the legal profession. By converting $127,000.50 in client funds, for which restitution has not been made and for which no meaningful payment arrangements have been established, Dangerfield caused her client direct, significant, and actual harm. Her conduct has also tarnished the image of the legal profession.
Bar disciplinary matters fall within the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court that acts as triers of fact and conduct an independent review of the record to determine whether the alleged misconduct has been proven by clear and convincing evidence.
The board concluded that Dangerfield’s offenses are so egregious that she should be permanently disbarred. Although Dangerfield’s conduct does not involve insurance fraud, as there is no indication of any misconduct relating to the settlement of TekCrete’s BP claim, Dangerfield admits she paid a referral fee to a third person for her BP cases.
Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that the permanent disbarment guidelines are not intended to bind the Supreme Court’s decision-making process. Regardless of the fact that Dangerfield’s misconduct may not definitively fit any of the specific permanent disbarment guidelines, her conduct demonstrates a clear lack of moral fitness. Her behavior continues to cause great harm to her client and tarnish the image of the legal profession. In order to protect the public and maintain the high standards of the legal profession in this state, we find Dangerfield should not be allowed the opportunity to return to the practice of law in the future.
It was ordered, therefore, that Akello Patrice Dangerfield, Louisiana Bar Roll number 24365, be and she was permanently disbarred. Her name shall was stricken from the roll of attorneys and her license to practice law in the State of Louisiana was revoked. It was further ordered that Dangerfield be permanently prohibited from being readmitted to the practice of law in Louisiana. It is further ordered that Dangerfield shall pay restitution of $127,000.50 plus legal interest to TekCrete, Inc.
When a lawyer agrees to pay a referral fee to a non-lawyer he or she is committing a crime. When the referral fee is greater than the fee to which she agreed with the client she is also stupid since there will not be enough money to pay the client and the referrer. That it was probably the result of an insurance fraud – although not proven – matters not. The conduct that deprived TekCrete, Inc. of its rightful recovery was probably one of many different unethical acts. The conduct of the lawyer – as admitted in the proceedings before the Supreme Court – was reprehensible and conduct of moral turpitude that provided the Supreme Court with no option but to disbar Ms. Dangerfield so that she will never again get respect from anyone in the legal community.
© 2020 – Barry Zalma
Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 52 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and email@example.com.
Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.
Over the last 52 years Barry Zalma has dedicated his life to insurance, insurance claims and the need to defeat insurance fraud. He has created the following library of books and other materials to make it possible for insurers and their claims staff to become insurance claims professionals.
Read posts from Barry Zalma at https://parler.com/profile/Zalma/posts
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