Leslie Turk

LPSB attorney Paul McMahon's law license suspended

by Leslie Turk

[UPDATE: As a result of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 12 order temporarily suspending the law license of Paul J. McMahon III, The INDsider has obtained the Jan. 6 petition for suspension and confidential memorandum filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which are now a matter of public record. Both lay out, in detail, the ODC’s reasons for seeking to have McMahon's law license suspended, noting that he has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and "poses a substantial threat of serious, irreparable harm to the public."

Over the past few months, complaints began coming into the office against the 50-year-old Lafayette attorney, largely by current clients who had hired him to represent them and in many instances had been paid for his services. “And yet they were unable to communicate with him, and in fact he appeared not to be at his office,” Chief Disciplinary Counsel Chuck Plattsmier tells the INDsider. “After receiving several of those complaints, we then received word from fellow members of the bar indicating that they were observing clients coming to his office location in Lafayette repeatedly and unable to find Mr. McMahon, which led to a concern that he was largely absent, unavailable.”

In the confidential memo, the ODC ticks off a laundry list of complaints by former clients, among which is one open investigation file and six other petitions for formal charges (all are related to matters involving construction disputes).

After learning his longtime friend was having personal problems in early 2009, Lafayette attorney Jeffery Speer offered McMahon office space in a building he owns on St. John Street, according to the memo; McMahon had previously been practicing at 2020 W. Pinhook, Ste. 404. At some point in the past year he either began practicing law in New Orleans or relocated there.

“We communicated with an individual [in Lafayette] who identified herself as a secretary who was apparently from a temp agency,” Plattsmier says. “She was able to confirm that day after day, repeated requests from clients were coming in and that she did not know where Mr. McMahon was, rarely heard from him and as far as she knew he was getting all of his messages but was not responding."

McMahon’s secretary told investigators she communicated with him mostly via e-mail. She also said some clients had recently terminated his services and that she had been sending all mail and correspondence to him at 1417 Burgundy St. in New Orleans.

The open investigation file mentioned in the ODC's filing involves Dr. John F. Taylor, who hired McMahon to recover damages from alleged faulty work performed on his home. After an initial hearing was canceled due to an attorney’s illness, McMahon failed to have the matter rescheduled, even though he told his client that it had been, according to the ODC’s investigation. Taylor, who had cleared his patient schedule to be available, later fired McMahon and asked for a refund of his fee. McMahon agreed to refund the fee but did not.

In the other complaints, all of which are petitions for formal charges, McMahon initiated litigation in each matter but failed to expedite or complete the litigation, according to the ODC.

In one matter, McMahon, who was retained to represent a client in a dispute involving payment for work completed on a construction project, allowed a default judgment to be entered against his client resulting in a judgment of $165,897.54. Though he was representing the client as a co-defendant, McMahon later accepted representation of an opposing party in the same matter, according to the ODC.

Another complaint, initiated by attorney Robert Matthews on behalf of himself and former McMahon clients Clarence Reece Owen, Owen’s Construction Co., Premier Glass Plus and Boes Iron Works, alleges that McMahon failed to inform his clients of the requirement for filing a suspensive appeal — in particular, the requirement of posting a bond in a timely manner. As a result, the clients had to pay the entire judgment. (The client retained new counsel, and the matter was reversed on appeal.) Also, while representing Boes, McMahon failed to file an opposition motion to dismiss his client’s lawsuit, resulting in the dismissal of the client’s claim to recover damages for unpaid construction costs totaling $48,277. In another matter involving Boes, the ODC states, he failed to file an opposition to a summary judgment, causing the lawsuit to be dismissed and all claims lost.

Clients Richard and Amy Durr had hired McMahon to recover damages from contractors and insurers for alleged faulty workmanship and improper installation of an exterior insulation finish at their home. Though diligent in filing the suit, McMahon did not respond to discovery requests of opposing counsel and failed to file witness and exhibit lists prior to the trial. Later, at a hearing to dismiss the matter, he told the court there was no opposition to the motion, even though he had not discussed the issue with his clients, who only learned of the dismissal at a chance meeting with the opposing counsel.

In yet another case cited by ODC, McMahon’s clients were ordered by the court to pay damages of $80,000, along with $20,000 in attorneys fees, after he failed to answer a petition for damages or to respond to interrogatories and requests for production of documents. They learned of the judgment only after being notified by their bank that the money was being deducted from their account.

In each of these complaints, McMahon has repeatedly refused to cooperate with ODC’s investigation. The office maintains he has not responded to complaints nor has he appeared for sworn statements after being served with a subpoena. As a result, a motion has been filed to have the allegations in the petition deemed “admitted and proven by clear and convincing evidence,” the memo reads.

“This appeared to be a lawyer who for whatever reasons, and we still don’t know what those reasons may be yet, appears to have neglected his clients, failed to communicate with them and in large measure abandoned his practice,” Plattsmier says.]

ORIGINAL STORY, published earlier today:

The INDsider has learned that the Louisiana Supreme Court on Jan. 12 suspended the law license of Lafayette attorney Paul J. McMahon III, who represents the Lafayette Parish School Board in the N.P. Moss construction lawsuit against the architecture firm Corne-Lemaire Group.

The court’s order to temporarily suspend McMahon’s license was based on a “threat of harm” petition filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Chief Disciplinary Counsel Chuck Plattsmier did not return calls seeking comment on what prompted it to seek the suspension.

The INDsider was unable to reach McMahon for comment this morning. A phone number for his law office online was disconnected; his Web site does not even list a phone number.

McMahon is best known for his work in construction law. Among his more prominent clients were the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (which severed ties with McMahon Jan. 12) and the LPSB. The Moss suit, in which the school board has taken legal action over water intrusion problems at the school, is in the hands of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, which is will decide whether too much time elapsed between the completion of the school and filing of the suit.

School system spokeswoman Angela Simoneaux had no knowledge of the Supreme Court’s order; Simoneaux said she would check to see if others in the system are aware of the action, and was also looking into the status of McMahon's cases for the board.

One local attorney familiar with McMahon’s work calls him a “brilliant lawyer” who had built up a large client base. The attorney, who asked not to be identified, did not know what led to the suspension.