Awkward: Lawyer Wants Weed As Payment; Gets License Suspended

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Many people have made bad career moves, but James Mecca a defense lawyer from Louisiana, made a surprising one: he asked to be paid with weed. Not surprisingly, it didn’t turn out well.

According to an Associated Press report, taking marijuana in exchange for his legal services seems to have been an ongoing business practice for Mecca. Police were tipped off to this questionable business arrangement by an informant who said that she’d paid him with marijuana before, and he had offered to represent her again for the “same old, same old.”

Officers taped a conversation between Mecca and his former client, in which she told him she had “a whole backpack full” of “smoke.” They arranged a meeting where she handed him about a half pound of marijuana that the sheriff’s office had given her. He was pulled over shortly after taking it for a traffic violation and arrested on charges of running a stop sign and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. Marijuana is still illegal both medicinally and recreationally in Louisiana.

Mecca pleaded guilty in 2014 to a misdemeanor first offense charge of possessing marijuana. His six-month jail sentence was suspended and he served a year of probation, according to a recent unsigned Supreme Court opinion.

The license suspension is a disciplinary matter, rather than criminal law.

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, but the state’s Supreme Court rejected a disciplinary board’s recommendation to let attorney James Mecca keep working.

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 written opinion.

Turns out it was a mixed blessing for Mecca. Despite this hiccup in his ability to practice law, Mecca recently told the Louisiana Record that after he was arrested, his first thought was “Thank God! Now maybe somebody can help me.”

He had been having issues with alcohol, which worsened after his father died, to the point where he worried about his own health. However, he didn’t want to give up the feeling of being ‘high.’ He explains how he ended up choosing weed, “…my mind reckoned with the idea of, ‘Well, what about marijuana? You won’t have to worry about your liver,’” he said. “I didn’t even think about my lungs or my brain, so I justified it because it was legal in several states.”

He told reporters he was still having issues with alcohol when he received a call from a former client whom he had previously purchased marijuana from that set off warning flags. He says, “…when this unfolded in my lap, it had a number of warning signs that my alcoholic mind was saying, ‘Maybe it’s a bust in the making, but nah, it’s OK.’”

Following the arrest, he’s contrite about the outcome. “Now I can at least reach out and give them some direction to help them out with their drug or alcohol problem,” he said. “I don’t have any embarrassment. Initially, I thought I would. And when it happened, I wanted to curl up and die, and never be seen again. But the process has allowed me to understand that it all happened for a reason, and it couldn’t have been more of a blessing.”

Because marijuana is still illegal at a federal level, paying for legal services in any state (even legal ones like California) could get both parties in hot water. So don’t try it.