MMA Lawyers Say they Were Duped, Argue Long Suspensions Unwarranted

Three former attorneys for the McClenny Moseley & Associates are urging a judge to lift a nine-month suspension that bars them from practicing in the federal Western District of Louisiana and pin blame for the law firm’s ethical issues on the law firm’s partners.

Claude F. Reynaud III, Cameron S. Snowden and Grant P. Gardiner each say that R. William Huye, the former managing partner of MMA’s New Orleans office, persuaded them to affix their names to hundreds of hurricane-damage lawsuits without telling them how the clients were obtained.

Each of the the three lawyers also said they were unaware that MMA was using Velawcity, an internet marketing firm, to sign up clients. They said founding partner Zach Moseley handled marketing and the law firm’s finances. Another founding partner, James McClenny, resigned from the law firm last December.

All of the judges assigned to the Western District of Louisiana decided collectively in June to extend an initial 90-day suspension of the MMA lawyers. Founding partner Zach Moseley and Huye were suspended for one year, Snowden and Reynaud for nine months, and Gardiner and founding partner James McClenny for six months. The court however, also scheduled a hearing held on Tuesday to hear the lawyer’s arguments as to why the punishment is inappropriate.

Snowden said in a brief filed on Aug. 1 that it’s not fair that the US District Court for Western Louisiana the same punishment as the law firm’s founding partners.

“While Mr. Snowden accepts full responsibility for his limited role in connection with the MMA debacle, it is respectfully submitted that when comparing the relative culpability of the individuals involved, Mr. Snowden’s actions pale in comparison to those of Messrs. McClenny, Moseley, and Huye,” he said.

Reynaud, Snowden and Gardiner say that Huye told them last summer that he planned to use a “permissive joinder” to file only 100 to 150 lawsuits for damages caused by Hurricane Laura in 2020. Instead of a single plaintiff for each damage claim, he intended to file one suit against each insurer with numerous plaintiffs for each.

After the Western Louisiana District Court rejected that approach on Aug. 12, 2022, Huye told the three attorneys that he needed each of them to use the federal court system’s filing system, called PACER, to affix their names to the lawsuits as plaintiff’s counsel, according to information Reynaud provided to the court.

The two-year statute of limitations for Hurricane Laura claims was fast approaching. The lawyers said they agreed to let their names be used only because otherwise the law firm’s clients would lose an opportunity to file suit. Reynaud said the situation presented an ethical dilemma: He had a choice of using his PACER account to file the lawsuits or refuse and effectively surrender the right of property owners to assert their insurance claims.

Reynaud included with his court filing affidavits by paralegal Melanie Farrell and attorney Heather Melaas. Both worked for MMA at the time the Hurricane Laura lawsuits were filed but quit after the scandal broke. Both said Reynaud had no management responsibilities and never handled money for the law firm. Farrell said she overheard Huye telling Reynaud that he had personally verified the information in the lawsuits.

New Orleans insurance defense attorney Matthew Monson reacted to each attorneys arguments with posts on his LinkedIn page.

After the Claims Journal ran a story about Gardiner’s pleadings on July 27, he said that the MMA saga should serve as a life lesson for new lawyers.

“Younger attorneys need to ask exactly where the files are coming from,” he said. “If you do not get a straight answer, consider another path before your career is ruined.”