METAIRIE — Attorneys presented arguments to a three-member panel of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board Tuesday morning in the ongoing disciplinary case against New Iberia attorney Shane Romero.
The case against Romero is based on a campaign flyer he had printed in 2014 while running for the New Iberia City Judge seat against Trey Haik. Romero admitted that he subsequently lied to investigators from the state’s Board of Ethics about who paid for the flyers. He also admitted to attempting to have Paul Camacho, who Romero gave money to pay for the flyers, sign a false affidavit saying that Camacho had actually used his own money to pay for the printing.
Camacho later wore a wire for investigators while Romero attempted to get him to take the blame for the flyers.
According to Deputy Disciplinary Counsel Robert S. Kennedy Jr., the arguments were less about the actual wrongdoing, but instead to determine the punishment Romero should face for his actions.
“The first thing (Romero) did was have Mr. Camacho brought to his lawyers in Baton Rouge to sign an affidavit saying he paid for the ad,” Kennedy said. “He hoped to compromise him as a witness for the prosecution.”
At that time, Camacho refused to sign the affidavit. Kennedy said Romero then approached him again to sign the affidavit. Camacho again refused, but was wearing a wire during the attempt.
“In the investigator’s transcript, you can hear him trying to corrupt Mr. Camacho,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy had initially recommended a two-year suspension of Romero’s law license, but a hearing committee recommended he be suspended for one year, with three months deferred.
“Based on information that has come to light since the hearing committee’s recommendation, the sanction is entirely too lenient,” Kennedy said. “Even the two-year suspension recommended is too lenient. This requires a much more serious sanction.”
Romero pleaded guilty in November 2016 to a single misdemeanor count of violating state campaign finance law. Kennedy said the more onerous activity, however, was in trying to cover up the relatively minor crime.
Dane S. Ciolino, representing Romero, said that the sanction the hearing committee recommended was too strict, using the case of former U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond as a baseline.
“It’s fairly simple,” Ciolino said. “Like cases should be judged alike. He lied about his domicile. Is Mr. Romero like Richmond?”
Richmond’s law license was suspended for six months, with all but 60 days deferred.
Ciolino went on to argue that Romero deserved sanctions for his behavior, just not a lengthy suspension. He also said that Romero had only lied to ethics investigators, never as part of a criminal proceeding.
Panelist Linda G. Bizzarro asked if Richmond had involved anyone else in his lying.
“No, he did worse,” Ciolino replied. “He testified himself on the stand. Is it worse to ask a co-conspirator to lie for you? Richmond completed the crime.”
In his response, Kennedy said the stipulations Romero agreed to are not the only wrongdoing in the case and that Romero’s actions were designed to prevent Camacho from being able to testify against him in his criminal case.
“Look at the timeline,” Kennedy said. “He approached Camacho in August 2016 to sign the false affidavit. In November 2016 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance charge.”
Kennedy said Ciolino was trying to make the case about a false swearing when it was actually far worse, including witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
“The creation of the second affidavit was to destroy the credibility of a witness,” Kennedy said. “It’s not just ‘I signed a false affidavit.’”
Ciolino attacked Kennedy’s description of Romero’s actions as more serious crimes.
“This is the first time the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ever mentioned obstruction of justice,” Ciolino said. “The formal charges are very clear.”
Kennedy pointed Ciolino to a statement in the case file which indicated that obstruction was on the table.
“You’ve known from day one,” Kennedy said.
In an email sent to The Daily Iberian after the hearing, Romero said that the disciplinary hearing, although open to the public, was not newsworthy.
“Mr. Ciolino pointed out to the board that in his 20-plus years of handling these types of cases, a local newspaper reporter has never attended a hearing,” Romero wrote. “My case continues to draw unusual attention from your newspaper with stories often littered with inaccuracies and opinion, despite that this story is stale. I have accepted responsibility for my part in a truthful campaign flyer published five years ago about Ted and Trey Haik making over $7 million on public bodies.”
The hearing, held at the LADB’s Metairie office, is the penultimate step in the attorney discipline process. Once the panel files its report, it is sent to the Louisiana Supreme Court for final disposition.