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Lawyer's fee was a backpack full of drugs

25 January 2017

An American lawyer caught working in exchange for marijuana has been suspended for one year.

Attorney James Mecca pleaded guilty in 2014 to a misdemeanour first-offence charge of possessing marijuana in 2013. His six-month jail sentence was suspended and he has served a year of probation, according to a Louisiana Supreme Court judgment, Re Mecca (2016-B-1116, 20 January 2017). The licence suspension is a disciplinary matter, rather than criminal law.

The St Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office set up a sting after an informant reported that she'd once paid Mecca in marijuana, and he had offered to represent her again for the "same old, same old."

Drug officers taped a phone conversation in which the informant said she had "a whole backpack full" of "smoke."

Mecca replied, “Oh, my God,” and readily agreed to “collect payments from both accounts,” meaning that he would accept the marijuana to offset the total fees owed by the woman.  

She then set up a meeting at which she gave Mecca about a half pound of marijuana, with a street value of about $US2,500, provided by the sheriff's office, according to the judgment.

He was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested on charges of running a stop sign and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute it.

The Louisiana State Bar's disciplinary board had recommended a "fully deferred" two-year suspension that would have let him keep working while he was on probation. The court found that too light, ordering a one-year actual suspension.

"Considering that respondent bartered his legal services for illegal drugs, directly implicating the practice of law and causing harm to the legal profession, we will not defer any portion of the suspension," four of the seven justices said in the decision.

Two justices recommended lighter discipline, noting that Mecca cooperated with investigators and went through drug treatment.  

Mecca told authorities that, following the death of his father in 2011, he began to spiral downward and isolated himself from his family. He testified that he had no positive ways to cope with his grief and that the stresses of his legal practice began to wear on him emotionally. He could only cope with this through excessive consumption of alcohol and marijuana.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019