Louisville attorney facing contempt charges from district judge

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - January has not been a good month for a Louisville attorney who has been found in contempt by a district court judge and issued a public reprimand by the Kentucky Supreme Court on another matter.

During a court hearing conducted by Zoom earlier this month, attorney Shameka O’Neil was representing a man accused of misdemeanor criminal mischief.

According to video of the proceedings obtained by WDRB -TV, she told Jefferson District Judge Julie Kaelin, while discussing a plea agreement for her client, he refused to go along with it, first telling the judge he was mentally ill, then when the judge said she couldn’t accept a plea if her client didn’t understand the agreement, saying he wasn’t mentally ill.

She then tried to withdraw as the man’s attorney, but the judge denied the motion. When O’Neil asked why, she added her client has caused problems at the jail and won’t accept her legal advice.

Kaelin responded, “You are now disparaging your client to this Court.”

Again, O’Neil asked to be removed from the case, which the judge again denied.

O’Neil responded, “I bet I don’t appear again. Goodbye,” before hanging up her phone and leaving the virtual hearing.

Kaelin found O’Neil in contempt.

In the contempt order, obtained by WDRB News, Kaelin removed O'Neil as Burns' attorney and stated that her behavior in Tuesday's hearing embarrassed the court. The contempt charge carries a $500 fine and a 90-day prison sentence. However, the imprisonment can be avoided if O'Neil agrees to "refrain from committing additional acts of contempt" and study courtroom professional standards.

O'Neil later told the station she'll challenge the punishment, citing the judge's "rudeness" and "disrespect" for her "off-the-cuff" remark. O'Neil contends she was fighting for what's best for her client.

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday issued a public reprimand to O’Neil for another matter.

This involved a woman who hired O’Neil in a racial discrimination claim against the Kentucky Department of Revenue, where the client worked.

According to the Supreme Court, the woman paid O’Neil $1,900, which included the filing fee for her case. O’Neil filed Meaux’s verified complaint in Jefferson Circuit Court against the Kentucky Department of Revenue and the manager of her department. However, O’Neil failed to serve either the attorney general or assistant attorney general, as required by court rules.

In addition, the high court said O’Neil filed the suit in the wrong forum, as the claim should have been filed with the Kentucky Claims Commission.

The Department of Revenue filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of insufficiency of service of process, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and improper venue. When O’Neil failed to appear at the hearing on the motions, the Jefferson Circuit Court continued the matter and gave O’Neil additional time to respond. The court also noted that O’Neil had yet to cure the service of process errors.

O’Neil again failed to respond to the various motions or appear at the hearing, and the matter was submitted for final adjudication, with the court dismissing the case with prejudice. More than a week later, O’Neil filed a motion stating she had been out of town when the motions were filed and served by mail. In the motion, she asked the trial court to alter, amend or vacate its order dismissing the case with prejudice and alleged she had cured the service defects.

The trial court altered its order and dismissed the case without prejudice due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. O’Neil failed to communicate the case’s dismissal to her client, who did not learn her case had been dismissed until she consulted another attorney who, in turn, called O’Neil to check on the status of the case.

The Supreme Court says O’Neil charged the woman an additional $500 for her work, despite the fact that none of O’Neil’s time benefited her client in the least—due largely to O’Neil’s lack of preparation and research on the case and her lack of diligence in the case and the dearth of communication with her client.

The Kentucky Bar Association filed a five-count charge against O’Neil alleging violations involving competence, diligence, keeping a client reasonably informed, an unreasonable fee and communication with a client regarding the fee.

O’Neil admits she violated these rules, attempting to draw this matter to a close through the parties’ agreed-upon negotiated sanction of a public reprimand and O’Neil refunding $1,900 to the client within 30 days, as well as costs of the investigation.

The high court noted that failure to repay the money on time would change the reprimand to a 30-day suspension.

 

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