A Baton Rouge lawyer accused in a civil lawsuit by his former law firm of misusing or misappropriating millions in state film tax credits and other client assets has permanently resigned as an attorney, the Louisiana Supreme Court reported Friday.
James M. “Tres” Bernhard III, a former employee of Crawford Lewis PLLC, requested the resignation in lieu of discipline by the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Council, a news release from the court says.
The Supreme Court accepted his resignation Wednesday, the news release says.
Bernhard is the son of Shaw Group Inc. Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Bernhard Jr.
The Office of Disciplinary Council has been investigating complaints of “serious professional misconduct” by Bernhard, including “improper handling of client funds,” an unsigned court order says.
The Supreme Court created the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board in 1990 to investigate and make recommendations to the Supreme Court on lawyer misconduct. The Office of Disciplinary Council serves as the board’s prosecutor.
On April 27, Crawford Lewis filed suit against Bernhard and various companies he controls in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.
The suit alleges Tres Bernhard, who was fired March 22, diverted client funds to his personal creditors, engaged in a series of schemes to misappropriate tax credits, sold bogus tax credits to third parties and fabricated a disputed $600,000 check.
The lawsuit says Crawford Lewis has been unable to get Bernhard to put up money to settle client claims. The suit does not estimate clients’ losses, but Mary Olive Pierson, the attorney representing the law firm in the suit, has said it is in the seven figures.
Pierson said Friday that his resignation is sort of an admission by Bernhard of the firm’s claims.
“This has been in the making for some time, and I think it validates what we said in the petition,” she said.
The resignation bars Bernhard from practicing law in Louisiana or any other jurisdiction in which he was admitted to practice law. Bernhard also is permanently prohibited from seeking readmission to the practice of law in Louisiana or admission in any other jurisdiction in the future.
According to the Louisiana Bar Association website, Bernhard was admitted into the practice of law in October 2003. He became affiliated with Crawford Lewis in October 2007 and became an associate in May 2009, the lawsuit says.
The Crawford Lewis suit seeks damages, Bernhard’s pay by the firm since 2007, attorney’s fees and costs.
The lawsuit says Bernhard is in an undisclosed medical facility in Texas. His attorney for the disciplinary matter, James Clary Jr., did not return a message for comment Friday afternoon.
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