Disbarred lawyer seeks re-instatement

E. Eric Guirard. (Staff photo by PAM BORDELON)
E. Eric Guirard. (Staff photo by PAM BORDELON)

Personal injury lawyer and personal-branding pioneer E. Eric Guirard plans to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to allow him to practice law again Monday, when the mandatory five-year waiting period for being disbarred ends.

“That’s when I’m eligible to apply. Depending on how the process works ... the Supreme Court could hear it relatively quickly,” Guirard said.

But the process may involve multiple hearings and reports, so it will likely be a few months or even a year before the court makes a decision, Guirard said.

Guirard and partner Thomas R. Pittinger were disbarred in 2009 because of their “business first” model, whose practices included rewarding the firm’s non-lawyers for settling cases as quickly as possible, according to the Supreme Court.

One case manager received more than $81,000 in commissions for settling 261 cases.

“Having the case managers negotiate and settle the cases was a misrepresentation by omission to the clients, particularly considering that clients were given the ‘E Guarantee,’ which implied that a lawyer, not a case manager, would handle the case,” the court said in the 2009 opinion.

Guirard said he modeled his business plan on New Orleans lawyer Morris Bart’s personal-injury practice, where Guirard worked for years before setting up his own firm.

“If I was guilty of some technical violations, then I understand the wrongfulness and the seriousness of that, and I admit to all that. But I don’t know why it was such a Draconian punishment,” Guirard said.

A Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board hearing committee recommended Guirard and Pittinger be suspended for a year and a day. However, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigated the lawyers for the board, and the full board pushed for permanent disbarment. The Supreme Court disbarred Guirard and Pittinger, although not permanently. Both are eligible to apply to be readmitted to the Louisiana State Bar Association on Monday.

Guirard said the penalty probably cost him millions, maybe even tens of millions of dollars in earnings and future earnings, as well as hurting his reputation.

Guirard said when it became apparent he and Pittinger would be forced to stop practicing law, they made an agreement to sell the firm to Dudley, DeBosier and Peltier. Under the deal, Guirard and Pittinger eventually would return to the firm as co-partners.

But Dudley, DeBosier and Peltier changed their minds on that front. Guirard and his former partners Chad Dudley, Steven DeBosier, James Peltier and the Dudley DeBosier law firm are fighting in court over $14 million in legal fees generated by the 2,000 cases Guirard and Pittinger left behind, as well as the value of the practice.

“So I’ve paid in all sorts of ways,” Guirard said.

Dudley issued a prepared statement saying Dudley DeBosier wishes Guirard “the best” in his attempt to be readmitted to the practice of law.

The firm has made every attempt to resolve its disagreements with Guirard “reasonably and amicably,” Dudley said. The firm is disappointed that it has been unable to do so, especially since the firm successfully resolved the identical issues with Pittinger.

In a 2013 filing in 19th Judicial District Court, Dudley, DeBosier and Peltier say the dispute revolves around the method of calculating the value of the legal fees, whether everything in dispute should go to arbitration, and whether the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Lawyer Fee Dispute Resolution Program must be the arbitrator.

When he returns to practice, Guirard said he’ll be competing with Dudley DeBosier whether by himself or with other lawyers . He doesn’t expect much difficulty reinvigorating his brand and reputation.

For years, billboards and radio and television commercials made the E Guarantee practically inescapable.

LSU marketing instructor Thomas Karam said Guirard’s earlier efforts will make it rather easy for him to re-establish his brand.

Guirard was one of the first, if not the first, local personal injury lawyers to identify himself with a single initial, Karam said.

The strength of that symbol will make it easy, although Guirard’s relaunch will have to include at least a hint of apology and acknowledge he had to leave his practice.

“Once that’s stated, and there’s a couple of articles written on him, I think people will forgive very quickly,” Karam said.