Our old friend Attorney Richard Ducote is back in the news for a couple of reasons. The first is that he’s once again lost a casein which his client was a woman who accused her male former partner of physical abuse (Deadspin, 1/25/18). Sandra Brooks made elaborate claims about abuse by NFL referee Carl Johnson, but the judge in the case ruled she’d failed to prove her claims and dismissed her action. The local police have now charged her.
A few months later, the focus of the criminal investigation changed as well. Investigators had decided that no charges would be filed against Johnson, and, according to the sheriff’s office, Brooks was under investigation instead as “the predominant aggressor.”…
A month later, on Nov. 7, Brooks turned herself in after a warrant was issued for her arrest. She is now charged with domestic battery, defamation, filing a false police report, and filing a false petition for a protective order.
Having failed in his effort to prove Johnson the abuser when in fact it was his client Brooks who appears to have merited that title, Ducote withdrew from the case.
The second reason he’s in the news is that he’s filed documents to become a justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court (The Advocate, 7/19/18).
Prominent lawyer Richard Ducote, of Covington, filled out the papers and paid the fees to challenge Associate Supreme Court Justice Greg Guidry.
Ducote is a high-profile figure in the legal community, but, from what I can gather, he seems to have a couple of Achilles heels. One is that he seems to invariably represent women. Are there no men worthy of his time and talents? The second is that often the evidence supporting his client fails to pass the smell test. The latter seldom seems to deter Ducote’s enthusiasm for a case.
Consider these few items (Times-Picayune, 6/13/15).
In a 2007 case decided by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Texas, Ducote accepted a $50,000 retainer but was then barred from representing a woman with a child after "testimony about the number of times Ducote had been sanctioned in state and federal courts across the country, and his filing bankruptcy to avoid payment of sanctions."
An appeals court in Florida issued sanctions against Ducote in 2007 stemming from his representation of wife in a bitter divorce case there. The appeals court accused Ducote of making "frivolous objections'' that led to additional expenses, using illegal obtained evidence, asking embarrassing questions to intimate a witness and placing the husband "in a position where he was forced to seek emergency relief related to pre-trial publicity.''
Ducote was also linked to another case in the Texas appeals court in which a mother abducted child was abducted by the mother.
An amicus attorney involved in that Texas case shared the father's concerns the mother might try to bolt with the child. That attorney "informed the court she had conducted research on Ducote and spoken to attorneys opposing him in cases across the country," the opinion says. "The attorney reported that Ducote has multiple web sites designed to attract women who believe they have been battered or their children sexually abused."
Ducote, the court feared, would become complicit in an attempt to have the child, taken abroad, according to the opinion.
"Significant documentation about Ducote and his judgments, sanctions and disciplinary actions was attached to the motion," the document says. "The attachments ... also included the affidavit of an investigator (who) stated that anytime Ducote is involved in a case the parent and child are considered a high risk for flight from the court, not just because of Ducote but because of the groups with which Ducote is involved."
Unsurprisingly, Ducote denies wrongdoing in the abduction case and I have no reason not to believe him. Face it, attorneys have no way of knowing everything their clients are doing, have done or intend to do regarding a case in litigation. Still, the sheer volume of findings against him by various courts in various states says a lot. I’ve known countless attorneys, some of them bulldog litigators like Ducote, but none has his record of sanctions against him/her.
Ducote’s primary failing seems to be his willingness to believe women who claim they’ve been abused. Consider the North Dakota cases of Norberg v. Norberg. The first was a divorce and custody case, the second a case of defamation, false arrest, malicious prosecution and the like. Once again Ducote represented the woman, Alonna Norberg (later Knorr) and once again she alleged abuse (this time sexual) by her husband Jon Norberg.
The court found Alonna to not be a credible witness and that her claims of abuse were “false” and made with the intention of gaining the upper hand in the child custody case. It also found that litigation of the false claims had ruined Jon financially. That’s easy to believe. A glance at the opinion of the North Dakota Supreme Court, affirming the trial court’s findings, reveals points on appeal raised by Ducote that transparently have no validity. For example, Alonna claimed that the trial court gave custody to Jon because the criminal court had acquitted him of her charges of sexual battery. But, as the Supreme Court noted, that simply wasn’t true as the trial record plainly showed.
However, the court did not rely on Jon Norberg's acquittal in the criminal proceedings to determine Alonna Norberg's allegations were false. The court's findings clearly indicate it considered the evidence presented at the divorce trial and determined her allegations were not credible. The court explained why it did not find her allegations credible. The court did not misapply the law and improperly rely on Jon Norberg's acquittal in the criminal proceedings.
Raising such a patently untrue issue on appeal wastes both the court’s time and the client’s money. No wonder Jon Norberg’s finances were in tatters once Alonna and her lawyer got through with them. How much of that was Ducote’s doing, is anyone’s guess, but we should remember that this is a man with a record that includes a court complaining of his “frivolous objections that led to additional expenses.”
Ducote’s client in Norberg was a physician and a drug addict. The court noted that she was taking some 40 different medications, at least some of them opiates. It also noted that her physical and emotional instability adversely affected their children. Could Richard Ducote really not see the obvious when she came to him with a claim of sexual abuse? Did it truly not occur to him that she read the writing on the wall, that Jon stood a good chance of getting custody and that her claims were fabricated for the sole purpose of thwarting that very outcome?
There are two possibilities – he either saw what was apparent to all or he didn’t. If he didn’t, he’s an inexcusably poor judge of people, but I suspect that’s not the case. I suspect he understood the situation all too well, but realized that he had a physician for a client and a fairly well-to-do opponent. That of course spelled one thing – m-o-n-e-y. And Ducote took that ball and ran with it.
Did his drug-addicted client realize what was happening? Who knows? But something one lawyer quoted by the Times-Picayune had to say seems on point.
"He presents himself as this savior, as probably the most recognized expert in child sexual abuse cases. There are a lot of vulnerable, vulnerable people out there and they want to believe in what Ducote has to say. Some do so for good reasons, some not."
Several months ago Richard Ducote contacted me regarding a case I’d written about. He claimed that, contrary to the court’s initial findings, his client, the mother, had been vindicated at last, that she’d regained custody and the dad had been found to be abusive after all. I told him I was glad he’d contacted me and that I’d be willing to post an update on the case. Of course I needed to see the new ruling by the court that supported Ducote’s claims. Would he send it to me? He said he would. That was some seven months ago and, to date I’ve heard nary a word from him. I emailed him once to remind him that he’d said he’d send me the judge’s ruling, but that too has borne no fruit.
I would encourage Ducote to be a lot more rigorous about who he chooses as his clients, to abandon what looks like his “believe the woman” bias, to objectively assess the evidence in a case before taking it to court. But I have a feeling Ducote wouldn’t pay my blandishments any heed. He strikes me as simply not that kind of lawyer.