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Louisiana’s highest court has suspended a former law associate of a since-disbarred and imprisoned state senate president for her role in the use of “runners” to solicit personal injury clients for the senator’s law firm. Some attorneys are calling the state supreme court’s action part of a disturbing trend. Greer Goff, who worked for Louisiana Senate President Michael O’Keefe’s New Orleans’ law firm, O’Keefe, O’Keefe & Bernstein, received a nine-month ban from the court. But she will serve only three months of the punishment because she cooperated with the authorities. In re Goff, No. 02-B-1899. According to the high court, O’Keefe had approached Goff about working with two “paralegals with their own clientele,” as O’Keefe called them. Goff claimed that she later learned that the paralegals were using her name to acquire clients without her knowledge. Goff added that she became aware that the paralegals were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and were using runners to solicit personal injury clients. Goff told O’Keefe she was no longer comfortable with the arrangement, that she did not want the paralegals using her name and that she was leaving the firm to accept a position with the New Orleans city attorney’s office. O’Keefe convinced Goff to continue doing some work for the firm after joining the city attorney’s office, and, according to the court, was aware the firm was using runners in violation of Louisiana’s rules of professional conduct. Upon learning that O’Keefe’s partner was negotiating with the bar’s chief disciplinary counsel, Charles Plattsmier, and that Plattsmier planned to bring formal charges against her, Goff began cooperating. Resigning completely from the O’Keefe firm, Goff replaced Camille Gravel, the lawyer O’Keefe had retained for her, with her own new counsel. Gravel had previously represented former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in some of his criminal matters. Citing several mitigating factors, including Goff’s lack of prior disciplinary history and her cooperation with the disciplinary counsel, the state’s disciplinary committee recommended that all of the nine-month suspension be deferred as part of a consent discipline agreement. The committee noted that Goff was “neither the originator of the scheme nor an active participant.” But the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected the consent discipline, holding that complete deferral of the suspension was inappropriate. In approving the consent discipline with three months of actual suspension, the court said, “we would denigrate the seriousness of runner-based solicitation if we were to adopt a fully deferred suspension under the facts of this case. “Unquestionably, engaging in runner-based solicitation is one of the most serious professional violations an attorney may commit,” the Louisiana Supreme Court said in its opinion. According to Plattsmier, it’s a growing problem. “I’ve seen a large increase in the number of cases over the last seven years,” he said, adding, “In the past five years alone we have prosecuted 17 or 18 lawyers for involvement in runner-based solicitation.” Gravel, although declining to discuss the specifics of Goff’s case, agreed that the use of runners is becoming a bigger problem. “There’s been a growing proliferation of the practice,” he said. In August 2001, Louisiana made runner-based solicitation grounds for disbarment. Although the use of runners is permitted in limited circumstances in some jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, in Louisiana it is not only an ethics violation, it is also a crime.

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