Slap for not Following Trial or Appellate Rules; CFAF & Attorney Surrogate Issues: Outing your Client, not a good thing: Let’s Party

Lawyers Need to Know (or read) and Follow Rules

It seems to be painful to be a stickler for rules (which appellate judges often are) and read some appellate submissions.  From time to time the Court of Appeals will send a subtle message to the Bar about the quality of advocacy, but subtly was not the tool used in Judge Bradford’s opinion in Duensing v. Johnson.  The appellate lawyer was 3 for 3 in footnotes admonishing him for rules violations or for confusing the court. A couple other chiding comments come through over the weakness of the arguments submitted.

Appellee lawyer also took a shot for citing a NFP opinion as authority for an argument as well.

Read the case and remember that some trial judges also expect the lawyers to know the difference between different kinds of motions made at different times in the trial.

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Hamilton the Birdman – Two Lessons in One Headline:  What do you know about CFAF? How are you with the Attorney Surrogate Rule?

Bradley Hamilton, a Kokomo lawyer appears to have closed shop and fled to Australia.  He had some notoriety in the Howard County area for his willingness to “flip the bird” to news cameras.  The story reports that several clients had paid funds to Hamilton, and may have lost their retainers.  No criminal charges have yet been filed.

Local Kokomo lawyer Brent Dechert is stepping up to help the clients of Hamilton.  He filed a Petition for Appointment of an Attorney Surrogate* to allow him to access the files and trust account of Hamilton.  The Petition was granted and Dechert has given public notice of the appointment.  This results in the clients getting their files back, or transferred to a new lawyer who will work with them on their matters. Dechert said that he does not handle the kinds of cases Hamilton did, so there is little likelihood that he will take over many of the cases.

Not reported in the article is the existence of the Clients Financial Assistance Fund, of the Indiana State Bar Association.**  The fund, created by the  ISBA several decades ago, provides a partial remedy to those clients who have had funds stolen from them by their lawyer.  An individual client can recover up to $15,000 with a standing cap of $50,000  total reimbursement for all client losses due to the acts of a single lawyer.

The CFAF committee meets as needed (and fortunately it is not needed too often) to consider and investigate claims.  The funds in the CFAF are a part of the annual dues of ISBA members. The claim application is available.at the ISBA website here.

*  I am chair of the ISBA Special Committee on Attorney Surrogate Rule

**  I served more than ten years as a member of the Clients Financial Assistance Fund Committee for the ISBA.

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Sharing evidence on YouTube can get you suspended.

An IL lawyer thought his client was entrapped by police in a drug bust, so he posted the undercover video taken by the police online.  He titled the video  “Cops and Task Force Planting Drugs.”

By doing so he exposed a confidential informant of the police department, and he violated the client’s confidentiality without informed consent. The Disciplinary Counsel also accused Jesse Raymond Gilsdorf of Mount Sterling, IL with implying police wrongdoing without evidence to back up the charge.

Apparently he watched the video on a small monitor and thought it showed entrapment, but after posting the video, and then seeing the recording on a large screen monitor realized it proved the client’s guilt. She took a plea, he got charged.

The IL Hearing Board recommended a five month suspension of Gilsdorf’s license.  We will see what happens.

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Party in Rochester, courtesy of PWP

This Friday, the Peterson Waggoner & Perkins law firm will host “A Grand Night for Music III.” It is an occasional celebration for clients and friends of the law firm  The Atlanta Music Hall Band, straight from Atlanta Music Hall in Atlanta IN, will perform Swing and Jazz standards, and the dance floor will be out. Love to have you here. Call the office for tickets.

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Neglect gets 3 years; Lawyer arrested for fraud?; Report your Sex Offender Client? NY says no!

There must have been neglect, statement of proof in the opinion would be nice.

Louis Denney eventually had four DI cases filed, one for each year of 2008, 2009, 2010, and finally one in 2011 that did him in. Unfortunately the Order reads more like a CCS entry, so it is hard to tell what all Denney did. We are told that the Hearing Officer, Judge Jeff Todd issued a 56 page report, Denney appealed and was heard by the Supreme Court, and the court adopted that Report, but we just get a snippet of info on Counts 2,5,7 and 9. The court found violations of Rules 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4(a) & (b), 1.5(a), 1.15(d), 1.16(a)(3) & (d), 3.1, 3.2, 3.4(c), 4.4(a), 5.4(a), 8.1(b) and 8.4(b).  Denney was a busy guy, and apparently  neglected many of his cases. He did fight the allegations and the Hearing Officer report, but the final order does not offer many details.

There is no link to the 56 page report, so what we know is that Denney: charged unreasonable fees, neglected client cases, failed to do the work for which he was hired, failed to communicate, refused to return unearned fees, disobeyed court orders for accountings, and made scandalous and irrelevant accusations against a judge when the judge refused a continuance, in an attempt to remove the judge from the case.

As a result he is suspended from the practice for three years without automatic reinstatement, and we know  that Justice Rucker would have approved a one year suspension, and Justice David would have disbarred Denney.

What we don’t know that would be educational for lawyers who review disciplinary matters is: How many total counts were found against the respondent; were any counts found for the respondent; what time frame was Denney committing violations, and did he continue to violate the duty to clients after the 2008 complaint (which resulted from his failure to respond to grievance), and was the 2008 issue (or the ’09 or ’10 issues) wrapped into the 2011 matters? Were any clients made whole during this matter or will the ISBA’s Client’s Financial Assistance Fund be involved, if the clients are aware of this benefit?

I imagine writing disciplinary opinions is difficult, but we could learn more if more information and judicial reasoning was put on display in the opinions that are issued. Especially after a well fought hearing.

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Lawyer Arrested for Benefits Fraud…

Shawn Donahue pleaded not guilty to fraud in Harrison County recently.  The Louisville Courier Journal’s story called it welfare fraud, but it appears to be unemployment compensation benefits at issue.

The allegations are that Donahue received UE benefits while still working for a couple local entities that were paying him for legal work. It is alleged that he failed to disclose the earnings. Donahue’s lawyer, Bart Betteau predicted that his client would be cleared of the charges.

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NY Opinion, Lawyer not required to Report Inaccurate reports by Sex Offender

Legal services lawyer is contacted by potential client PC, who is a registered sex offender.  Lawyer is asked to review an administrative filing, made under penalty of perjury, to a state agency. She does, and in confirming the information submitted determines that the allegation of being a felon is inadequate, because pc did not disclose the sex offender status of Level Three Rapist, and pc did not register as required by law, under his properly spelled name.  PC  did not appear for appointment, so Agency decided not to represent him further, but did not report the evidence it found to the agency.

Should lawyer have reported the findings to the state agency? NY Ethics Committee says No! (see Opinion 963) Rules of Professional Conduct # 1.6 deals with confidentiality of client communications, and if PC had not become a client, Rule 1.18 carries duties to prospective clients. The rub is that Rule 3.3 “Conduct before a Tribunal” puts duties to disclose confidential information on lawyers, if the situation meets the standards. Here it is a close call, but since the lawyer did not appear before the tribunal, but only reviewed information submitted to it, and the submission was not by the lawyer, the committee finds that “It would not make sense to require a lawyer to take reasonable remedial measures regarding proceedings before a tribunal in which the lawyer has never appeared on behalf of the client.”

But does the lawyer have to report the failure to register properly with the police?  Rule 1.6(b)(2) in NY and in Indiana, is a permissive rule.  “A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary: (2) to prevent the client from committing a crime… and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services” (Ind. Rule).  NY’s Rule 1.6 does not have the “and in furtherance” language.  Indiana’s does which makes it even less likely that a disclosure would be appropriate even with the permissive disclosure language.

In NY the committee previously opined that past crimes cannot be revealed under this provision, only future crimes. Either way there is no mandatory disclosure, but a permissive disclosure in NY looks to be less risky than in Indiana, where there was no use of the lawyer’s services in furtherance of the misreporting.

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Jeffersonville INNS of Court meeting

Thursday March 21, Ted Waggoner will attend the Jeffersonville IN Inns of Court meeting at the invitation of Judge Terry Cody to speak on the Indiana Attorney Surrogate Rule, and its application to lawyers and law firms.  Ted chairs the Attorney Surrogate Rule Special Committee of the ISBA. 

Contact me for more information about this important rule.

Fraud gets 50 years; Mayhem gets jail; Shameless Plug.

Fraud gets lawyer prison time.

Indiana lawyer, now businessman Tim Durham gets 50 years for defrauding about 5,000 depositors in Fair Finance, with their total losses exceeding $200M.  Durham, admitted to practice law in Indiana in 1987, and suspended in June 2012, had what various magazines and stories showed as “the good life.”  It was based on the frauds he committed after he left the practice of law, apparently.

Starting his  legal practice at Ice Miller, he moved on to even bigger and better things. He once was married into one of the most prominent families in Indianapolis, and apparently wanted more. He acquired Fair Finance, and apparently took investment lessons from Bernie Madoff. The lure of cars, yachts and houses led him astray, and the 50-year-old, who must now serve at least 43 years in prison under current federal guidelines, may not get out in this lifetime.

If you get too excited at the chance to “hit the lottery” with someone else’s money, recall the lesson of Tim Durham.

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Don’t Trash the Office Before you are Evicted

Dallas lawyer Thomas Corea was jailed after making a real bad situation even worse.  First he was disbarred for stealing client funds, then he was evicted from his office.  But he was the smart one who showed the landlord.  After getting his eviction notice he trashed the office, doing more than $100,000 in damages.  That got the interest of the police, and he was jailed, and his bond increased to $500,000 for the first four felony charges.

Corea at one time had been host of an “ask your lawyer” TV show, but that turned out bad when he sued the station for $1.4M for not forwarding all calls.

It was the graffiti that got him in the eviction. He (or the vandal) wrote several messages on the wall, including one message that was a derogatory remark about an Arizona judge who had found him in contempt. He included her phone number and an invitation to call her…

Update – Another Dallas PI lawyer has now asked the court to appoint him custodian of the files left by Corea, since he cannot provide legal services to his clients disbarred and jailed.  It sounds similar to Indiana’s Attorney Surrogate Rule that allows this kind of help. No word from the ABA Journal if the help is welcomed by Corea.

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Shameless Plugs on Ethics (and other) Courses I am Presenting

Ted Waggoner, editor/author of this blog presented an hour of Ethics for the General Practice Solo and Small Firm Section of the ISBA on Nov. 29. The course was “Hiring and Training New Law Firm Personnel: How to Avoid Losing $85,000 or your License.”

On February 28, I will also be presenting an hour of Business Law Ethics at an ICLEF program. It has the tentative title of “Developing and Representing the Business Entity.”

On Jan. 23,  I will be presenting a seminar in kicking off the 2013 Ivy Tech Ag Seminar Series, titled “Family Farm Ownership: What is the Right
Solution for You and Your Family?”

For further information about either of these programs, please contact me.

What is “Lawyers with Troubles” and why read it?

A new blog designed to share current information on lawyers who have some kinds of trouble. Trouble for lawyers comes in lots of ways. The biggest types of trouble are disciplinary proceedings, fee disputes, or slap-downs from a judge (often an event that leads to other troubles).

Special troubles hit law firms that need to be brought to the attention of the lawyers. Fee disputes with clients, Client Financial Assistance Fund payments, (when a lawyer has been found to have cheated a client or many clients, and fellow lawyers offer funds to help the victims), or bar exam issues that haunt many lawyers for years, even after passage are always of interest to lawyers.

Still other troubles occur inside the office, and can run the list that most small or midsized businesses suffer. Economic downturns, bad employee decisions, cash flow management hit law firms like other places. I won’t be talking about these unless they lead to other troubles.

Troubles will be highlighted, since lawyers are mostly a trainable group. If you see someone in trouble for something that you too are doing, you might catch on and quit before you find yourself in trouble. I hate to report on my friends.

If you like the idea, share this blog post with your friends and colleagues. It will be an occasional post, prompted by the actions of the lawyers involved. I will plan to share a comment and a link, and a Hat Tip to the source.

As an Indiana lawyer, the blog will focus on the troubles of Hoosier lawyers, but lessons can be learned from the troubles of other lawyers, so if they make news, we will report it.