Ogden is a fighter, but…; Voils forgot to fight; Disabled and out of the fight

Okay, Paul…it’s your fight

Indy lawyer Paul Ogden writes a blog and challenges authority regularly. Today (Thursday) he threw a punch at the Disciplinary Commission with this blog post.

His trial before the Indiana Supreme Court is next Tuesday, July 30.
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But Alex, Don’t forget to Fight the cases you are hired to fight.

Alex Voils was hired to fight an insurance company for benefits as the company denied the client’s claim in 2005. In 2009, after repeated requests for action, the client fired Voils.  Then he failed to provide the file to new counsel and he ignored the Disciplinary Commission’s request for a response to the grievance.

The parties agreed on discipline of 30 days suspension with automatic reinstatement. The court suggested that punishment might have been more severe if there had not been an agreement. They agreed that Voils violated three rules:

 1.3: Failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness.
1.16(d): Failure promptly to return to a client case file materials to which the client is entitled after termination of representation.
8.1(b): Failure to respond in a timely manner to the Commission’s demands for information.

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Disability Suspension

We don’t see too many of these, and as the Boomers age, and the Greatest Generation ages even more, we may see these with more regularity. Indy lawyer Mary K. Kleiss was accused by the Disc. Comm. of being disabled “by reason of physical or mental illness or infirmity, or because of the use of or addiction to intoxicants or drugs.”  No more is described.  Kleiss filed an Affidavit of Consent to the Disability Suspension.

The Supreme Court accepted the filings and suspended Kleiss under the A&D Rule 23(25), and ordered that she may petition for reinstatement upon the termination of the disability.  Good Luck.

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“Causing grief to clients” = slapdown by judge; Learn from your neighbor lawyers’ mistakes; attend your clients.

Fee Shifting is no Reason to Mishandle a Case

There are a number of statutes that allow for fee shifting, and we hear calls daily for “tort reform” that pushes that idea.  Here it caused all kinds of bad incentives, as pointed out in a 113 page trial court order on the Fee Petitions under USTA and/or ELA environmental laws. [My experience in front of Judge Goshorn in a few cases is that he is normally a judge who uses few words to make his points – this output is unlike his normal work.]

Judge Goshorn of Wells County was asked to approve fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the amount of $676,986.11. He denied the request, mostly due to the conduct of the plaintiff’s counsel in the handling of the case.  Award to counsel $0. actually less, due to several contempt of court orders.

The judge said many things in 113 pages, none complimentary to Mark E. Shere, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in this case. A few direct slapdowns:

  • …Shere caused “untold grief and damage to [his] former clients”… [p.2]
  • “has been an impediment, not a facilitator, to the just resolution of this cause.” [p.2]
  • “this case has been extraordinarily and needlessly protracted…due to Mr. Shere’s fee agreement with his client.”  [p.3]
  • “… Shere drove this case off a cliff, leaving in his wake two bankrupt and divorced clients and a third client in financial trouble with its reputation sullied.” [p.5]

The judge was just getting warmed up.  He continued through 169 Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, never letting up on Shere.  On page 96 he found that the Fee Agreement Shere had with his clients violated Rule 1.8(i) of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct which states:

(i) A lawyer shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client, except that the lawyer may:

(1)acquire a lien authorized by law to secure the lawyer’s fee or expenses; and

(2)contract with a client for a reasonable contingent fee in a civil case.

Judge Goshorn saw the fee agreement as giving Shere a stake in the case for clients Witt, to his favor and to the favor of co-client Hydrotech. He found that:

  • “… the driver of this litigation was recovery of the maximum amount of fees for Mr. Shere, not assisting the Witts.” [p.99]

But this was not a screed against plaintiffs’ lawyers, he gave some fees to lawyers who worked for Shere, ordering the payment to the Clerk, and the clerk to direct the fees to those lawyers. [p.113].

The judge did not feel particularly sorry for the defendants in the case either, denying their petition for fees from Shere or his clients. The Court found:

  • “This litigation was a caged grudge match [I like that word-picture offered by the judge] with both sides throwing punches. … The Court is concerned about the chilling effect an award of fees to defendants in a USTA or ELA action might have…” [p.111-2]

Shere gets nothing due to the way he tried the case, putting his interests above those of the client.

This case was also addressed by the Indiana Supreme Court in a March 21, 2012 opinion where Shere and his clients were held in contempt of court.  The Court, in  a 3-2 opinion agreed with the contempt finding, overturning a reversal by the Court of Appeals.

For some reason I suspect we may see another Supreme Court opinion coming out in the future concerning the actions taken by counsel in this case.

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Learn from your Neighbors*

One lesson that is important is for lawyers to learn from the mistakes of their neighbors. It is one of the reasons this blog exists. Elden Stoops, for example, should have learned from neighboring county lawyer Jeffrey Price‘s 2009 public reprimand.  The cases as described sound surprisingly similar.  Both lawyers filed family law matters, seeking emergency relief.  Both offered proposed Orders to the court granting the emergency relief their clients sought. Neither petition cited or certified the steps made to notify the opposing parties of the filing of the emergency filing, as required under Trial Rule 65(B).  Both courts set hearings and immediately granted the emergency relief. [Query, when can parties, and lawyers, count on judges reading pleadings and knowing the law on such things?]

Later the opposing parties were notified of the actions taken.

Unlike Price, who was charged with one offense, Stoops was charged and sanctioned for two offenses. The one above was for violating Rules 3.5(b) – ex parte communication with a judge; 8.4(d) & (f) conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and assisting a judicial officer in violation of rules of judicial conduct. Stoops second violation was a conflict of interest, when co-clients turned against each other, and he took the case of one of the former co-clients.

Public reprimand for his actions. He had a clean record, and the court accepted the idea that he was trying to protect children, were mitigating factors accepted by the court.

* A lawyer from my firm was involved in the Stoops case.

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Take Care of the Clients

Ron Weldy has been a frequent poster on the ISBA email discussion lists.  He should have been paying attention to his clients’ matters a bit better.  The Supreme Court recently suspended Weldy for 180 days, 90 to serve and one year probation.  From the six counts, there were issues of fee agreements, client communication, case management, and knowledge of the law were problems for the respondent.  The list of rule problems is lengthy:

Violations: The parties agree that Respondent violated these Indiana Professional Conduct Rules prohibiting the following misconduct:

1.2(a): Failure to abide by a client’s decision concerning the objectives of representation.

1.3: Failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness.

1.4(a)(3): Failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter.

1.4(a)(4): Failure to comply promptly with a client’s reasonable requests for information.

1.4(b): Failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions.

1.5(b): Failure to communicate the basis or rate of the fee for which a client will be responsible before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.

1.5(c): Failure to disclose to a client the method by which a contingent legal fee will be determined.

1.7(a)(2): Representing a client when the representation may be materially limited by the attorney’s own self-interest.

1.15(e): Failure to properly secure disputed property until the dispute is resolved.

1.16(a)(3): Continuing representation of a client after the lawyer is discharged.

3.1: Asserting a position for which there is no non-frivolous basis in law or fact.

3.2: Failure to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of a client.

3.3(a)(1): Knowingly making a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal.

8.4(c): Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

8.4(d): Engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

This case is a good one to review before taking a weekend off.  Stay diligent, read the law. Be careful with your fee agreements

Corporate Lawyers have Troubles too; E-Discovery Issues; Reimbursements?

Corporate lawyers don’t get too much discipline press

Sometimes they deserve it, so they too, can stay off the radar of LawyersWithTroubles.

Ky. lawyer Ronald Hines was a corporate lawyer with Cody Properties, Inc.  He worked there for years, Cody was the employer.  Then trouble brewed in the corporate boardroom, and Hines took a side with one faction.  In fact he filed a suit against some of the corporate officers, without the Board’s approval, and expressed his opinion that the Board was not properly elected.  But he did not do it within the chain of command, or under the Rules of Professional Conduct.

He turned corporate files over to dissident shareholders, and objected to the LLC’s organizing papers that he had drafted to create the entity, calling them “fraudulent.”  He got fired by the new management, but still continued to hold himself out as “counsel for the corporation.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court found violations or Rule 1.7 – Conflict of Interests, 1.13(a) – Duty of Loyalty with Organizational Clients, 1.4(a) Failure to Communicate with Client (the new officers he was fired by), 1.16 Duties  Upon Termination of Representation, and 1.8 Duty of Confidentiality of Client Information.

The Court suspended Hines for 120 days for this series of violations.  KY does not report the process of reinstatement in this Order.

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“I [heart] hot moms”

One thing about technology is the great evidence that is contained there. Clients do dumb things, and tell the world.  Lawyers who help them “clean up the record” are doing even dumber (and more expensive) things as Virginia lawyer Matt Murray found out.

Fortunately for the client the VA Supreme Court upheld the $8.5M wrongful death verdict coming out of the tragic case, but Murray got tagged for a $542,000 legal fee sanction for advising the client to “clean up the Facebook pages” where, among other things, the deceased woman’s husband and plaintiff had a photo showing himself in a T-shirt that read “I love hot moms.”  Murray thought that might hurt the case, so he had a paralegal instruct the husband to remove that photo, 15 others and some text.  Because the husband had previously communicated with the adjuster through Facebook, the defendants knew of  the materials.

Murray has been reported to DC for abusing the Rules of Professional Conduct, and is now under investigation. He is no longer actively practicing law.

Another article on this case by Sharon Nelson: http://tinyurl.com/l586f5k

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Reimbursements — I  need an expense for that?

BIGLAW lawyers live in a different world.  One thought nothing of seeking $69,000 in reimbursements for cab fare, but forgot to first incur the $69,000 in fares.  Lee Smolen, of the Chicago office of Chicago’s biggest law firm Sidley & Austin, not only got his cab fares paid, but also $50,000 in entertainment expenses “not incurred for legitimate firm purposes.”

Apparently the partners at S&A did not see the humor, fired him and submitted the theft to the IL disciplinary authorities.

But it did not faze his new firm, DLA Piper, with law offices in Chicago and around the world.  It said that Lee had “learned from his experience” and will be a productive member of their team.

H/T John Conlon