Prominent attorney Joseph Bruno Sr. suspended 30 days for bungled Hurricane Gustav claim

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 01:26:38 PM. The Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered a well-known plaintiff’s lawyer to be suspended for 30 days for bungling a homeowner’s Hurricane Gustav insurance claim.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered a well-known plaintiff’s lawyer to be suspended for 30 days for bungling a homeowner’s Hurricane Gustav insurance claim.

In handing down the suspension Monday, the court cited prior misconduct by Joseph Bruno Sr., who rose to national prominence when he fought and won a case against the Army Corps of Engineers for flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

Just as with the prior misconduct, Bruno’s latest suspension was a long time coming. It took 16 years for the Supreme Court to suspend Bruno for making an improper payout to a witness in a class-action lawsuit, and four years after a complaint was filed over the blown deadline in the Hurricane Gustav case.

In the more recent case, the justices said they held back from imposing a sterner punishment because there was no evidence that Bruno's client suffered.

"The suspension was expected," said Bruno's attorney, Dane Ciolino. "Mr. Bruno made a simple mistake, and there was no actual harm suffered by any client. Given that, this was an appropriate sanction."

The case that led to Bruno’s most recent suspension started when a Baton Rouge rental property owned by Clarence Phoenix and his wife suffered wind and water damage from Hurricane Gustav in 2008, according to the Supreme Court’s summary of the case.

Phoenix negotiated a payment of more than $4,000 from the Republic Fire and Casualty Insurance Co., but he decided he deserved more. In August 2009, he signed on with Bruno’s firm to handle the case on a contingency basis.

At the time, Phoenix had no idea that Bruno was serving an 18-month suspension from the practice of law. The Supreme Court had punished him for paying a Shell Oil Co. employee $5,000 for information on the company’s defense against a class-action claim over a 1988 refinery explosion in Norco.

Bruno’s firm dispatched an inspection company to Phoenix’s property, and it estimated his losses at $34,500. With that report in hand, Bruno’s son, Joseph Bruno Jr., demanded $54,500 from the insurance company for damage to, and loss of the use of, the property.

The insurance company rebuffed the demand and asked for more proof of the damages. Joseph Bruno Jr. then “set the file aside and did nothing further,” according to the court.

After his suspension ended, the elder Bruno stepped back into the case. In February 2010, he reached a much-reduced agreement for a $7,200 payment. However, Phoenix rejected the offer the next month.

The justices found that Bruno allowed the claim to linger until the end of 2010, when the deadline to file a lawsuit against Phoenix’s insurer had passed.

In the end, the insurance company gave Phoenix a $7,200 payout in January 2011, even though the claim deadline had run out.

Two years later, Phoenix filed a complaint against Bruno for letting the deadline pass.

After considering testimony from Bruno, his son, Phoenix and his wife, the insurance company’s claims adjuster and others, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board concluded that Bruno had “violated duties owed to his client.”

Still, the board found there was “no evidence” that Phoenix would have received more money out of a full lawsuit.

The board recommended a 30-day suspension, which the Supreme Court accepted.

One jurist would have gone further. Justice James T. Genovese wrote in a brief dissent that he would have accepted the recommendation of an initial hearing committee, which called for a 90-day suspension and two years of probation.

...Read more
Share this

You might also like