The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently affirmed a $750 sanction leveled against a Cleburne attorney for disobeying an order by U.S. District Judge John McBryde, but reversed part of the punishment because it would have forced the lawyer to re-enroll in law school.
According to the decision, Robert E. Luttrell III was sanctioned by McBryde last year in a 40-page order that imposed discipline on the lawyer for failure to comply with a court order, including Luttrell’s failure to keep a court-appointed client apprised of a criminal appeal. McBryde also removed Luttrell from a panel comprised of attorneys who volunteer to represent indigent defendants in criminal trials.
On appeal, the Fifth Circuit concluded that McBryde did not abuse his discretion in fining Luttrell or removing him from the attorney panel, but said the judge went too far in requiring Luttrell to “complete 12 hours of ethics courses at an accredited law school in eight months.”
“To do this, he would presumably need to take the LSAT, apply and be admitted to a law school,” the Fifth Circuit wrote in a per curiam decision. “He would then likely need to suspend his law practice—12 hours of classes would almost make Luttrell a full-time student.”
“And finally, even if he did all this, we are aware of no law school that even offers 12 hours of ethics courses in a single semester,” the Fifth Circuit’s decision notes.
“Because of these difficulties, this particular sanction is not the least restrictive means of deterring Luttrell’s conduct and is overly burdensome,” the court concluded in the decision. “Accordingly, we find that the district court abused its discretion in imposing the ethics requirement, and we revise the sanction as follows: Luttrell must complete 3 hours of CLE courses in ethics by May 31, 2019, and he must report his compliance to the district court.”
Luttrell, who represented himself before the Fifth Circuit, did not return a call for comment.