Be Careful Helping your Friends – Sharing with Friends – Treating Staff and Litigants

When is a Lawyer just a Friend — in trouble?

Jameson Conrad was with a friend on New Year’s Eve, in Charleston WV. Conrad’s friend got into a dispute with another man, and used his gun to make his point. The shooting was caught on tape. Conrad then used his lawyerly skills to advise friend to “run,” he then kept friend’s cell phone and refused to identify friend when police asked.

When you are a fact witness, it is hard to claim a lawyer-client privilege, because the police think you are an “accessory to malicious wounding.” It might work, we will know in several months.

But, upon these facts, WV Bar Counsel alto thinks you are enough of a menace to make a prompt Complaint to the Investigation Commission, seeking suspension from the practice, and to report it when asked by the local paper.

H/T Gary Welsh.

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Who do YOU Trust with your Client’s Secrets?

It is only a little secret. Something you learned while working with the world’s most famous writer. Surely your wife’s best friend can be trusted not to tell what you should not have told her.  But she told, and now you pay, in a couple of ways.

JK Rowling has been known to write some pretty good books, sold millions of books, and movie tickets from the Harry Potter series.  She ought to be able to trust her secrets to her solicitors.  But Robert Galbraith’s identity was not safe with Christopher Gossage, one of her lawyers.  Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym Rowling used on a new book she wrote, trying to see if she could enjoy writing without the hype and expectations of her name.  She was displeased, even though the book sales jumped after the word was leaked by the trusted friend of Gossage’s wife.

The law firm fell on the sword, quickly admitting that Gossage had shared the information with Judith Callegari during a private conversation. “The disclosure was made in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly.”  Not a great judge of character there.

Who do you trust implicitly enough to turn your license over for their discretion? The Solicitors Regulation Authority in England fined Gossage £ 1,000. for the breach of confidentiality.  Rowlings charged even more.

There was a winner in this matter. “The Soldiers Charity” was the recipient of all the book proceeds, plus the settlement damages Gossage and his firm, as well as his trusted friend paid to Ms. Rowling. Nice touch.  Hard for a billionaire to get much in the way of sympathy for herself.

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Judge Suspended for Treatment of Staff, Lawyers and Litigants.

The Judge Kimberly Brown story is a big story in Indiana legal circles. She has been through a protracted hearing before the Master Panel to determine a recommended punishment, based on a multi-count complaint of judicial misconduct. She was reported to have mistreated staff, lawyers and litigants in unusual and contemptible ways.

The Master Panel has recommended her removal in spite of some clever legal maneuvering by her new lawyer-team, after firing her earlier team of lawyers.  Now the Supreme Court has temporarily suspended Judge Brown and will take further action in due course.  Her suspension, as recommended is with pay.

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Ted Waggoner will be offering the annual kickoff session to the IVY Tech Agricultural Seminar Series on Jan. 22, at the Cole campus in Logansport. The topic – Family Farm Ownership: What is the Right Solution for You and Your Family. For more information, contact Julie Byrd at IVY Tech, 765-459-0651 x 288.

Report Your Convictions, Indiana Lawyers; Scammed; School Board Lawyers Indicted over Free Lunch?;

Those other Rules also Count to the Ind. Supreme Court

There are several (18) sets of rules that lawyers need to know about as a part of your practice, and sometimes we forget them. One that bit a lawyer recently was the rule on reporting our convictions.  No, not our deeply held principles, but the convictions we get for violating the law. The Rule is A&D Rule 23 §11.1 (a)

(2)    An attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Indiana who is found guilty of a crime in any state or of a crime under the laws of the United States shall, within ten (10) days after such finding of guilt, transmit a certified copy of the finding of guilt to the Executive Secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

The 18 sets of Rules on the Court’s website can be found here.

Gary Selig, of Indianapolis, was convicted in 2003 of OVWI, but did not report it to the Disciplinary Commission. In 2013 he was again convicted, and started treatment. This time the conviction was reported, apparently by the judge (see below) His matter went to the Commission, and was docketed with the Supreme Court on two charges: Committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on his fitness to practice (RPC Rule 8.4(b) and Failure to Report the 2003 conviction (A&D Rule 23 §11.1(a)(2)).

The penalty: 30 days suspension from the practice of law, stayed for a six months probationary period with terms to help with the alcohol issues in his life, and to remain under JLAP supervision.  Good luck.

While it is probably painful to report a criminal conviction, it will be an aggravation factor if you don’t. Judges:  if a lawyer is convicted in your court, you also have a duty under 11.1(a)(1) to report that conviction within ten days.  Don’t overlook that duty.

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When the money is coming from Nigeria – Be careful

At least he did not fall for an email from Nigeria, but maybe what he did was worse.  Above the Law has the snarky version of the tale of the Iowa lawyer who not only fell for the $18.8M scam, but convinced several clients to invest in the up front payment of $177,660 to get that big check. He did it for the client who got him into this mess, (a criminal defendant with a pending case) and for the 10% finder’s fee that Robert Allen Wright Jr. (lawyer son of a prominent Iowa lawyer) was expecting out of the deal.

He even tried to get the funds from the Bank of Nigeria and the President of Nigeria (Nigeria is ruled by an Edo – the title used by the current “ruler” of Nigeria.)

Among the charges that were filed was a charge of Fraud on Clients, but it was dropped by the Disciplinary Board, because the evidence showed that Wright did not know there were no funds, and that he still is delusional about the prospect of obtaining the Nigerian cash, any day. Stupid is as stupid does…

He was suspended for a year from the practice. No word on restitution to the clients who were duped, and no requirement was stated for IQ or EQ testing before reinstatement.  Sounds like it might be a good idea.

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Got to Quit Reading NJ Law Journal
School board lawyers in NJ get indicted on Free Lunch scam for Board Members.

School Board member reports to the board lawyers that his income statement was “misstated” by his wife and he wanted to correct it “so I don’t end up like” another board member who was under investigation for getting free lunches when her kids were not eligible, due to her income.

The lawyers solved the problem for the board member, by conspiring to hide evidence, and telling staff to remove lunch applications from files, and doctor computer records, all to cover up for the various board members’ misdeeds.  Oops.   It was reported that:

A state grand jury in Trenton charged Capece and Nelson [the lawyers] with second-degree conspiracy and official misconduct, third-degree tampering with public records and physical evidence, and fourth-degree hindering prosecution.

If convicted, they would spend a minimum of five years in jail without parole and could pay fines of $150,000.

(emphasis added)

And you thought we school board lawyers lived quiet lives.

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FYI, Last Friday, I presented a three-hour CLE (one hour ethics) seminar on Representing and Working with a Not for Profit Entity.  A good session sponsored by the Northern Indiana Community Foundation (Fulton, Miami and Starke Counties), the Marshall County Community Foundation and the Pulaski County Community Foundation. If you are interested, contact me at ted@peterson-waggoner.com

Breathing Space – IND lawyers and 1st Amendment Rights; Lawyers and Child Porn – Problem in CA; Rule 1.8(a) will be Enforced.

CONGRATULATIONS TO SUPREME COURT

Faced with a tough question about the interplay between the rights of a group of defendants to a fair trial, and the feelings of a trial court judge, when her possible bias is pointed out, the Court, in one of two disciplinary cases filed against the lawyers who were trying to protect their clients, under the Rules, found no violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. This issue was raised here a couple weeks ago.

Thomas M. Dixon, of Osceola, outside of South Bend, together with David A. Wemhof, of South Bend, was accused of violating Rule 8.2(a) for the contents of his Motion for Recusal.   The Rule  says;  “A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.”  The Hearing Officer found a violation, and Dixon submitted that ruling to the full Court.  The Court in a 4-1 opinion held no violation occurred. 

The concern of lawyers in representing clients who fear a biased judge would have been palpable if the court said that an allegation of bias is proof of “a statement..false… concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.”  Rule 11 requires that the lawyer endorse the statements, but most are statements of opinion, most often the opinion of the litigant, who is the one with the right to a fair hearing.

In this case, the judge who was asked to recuse was also the judge who ruled on the request, and who filed the complaint.  And Dixon did good legal work here. The Court distinguishes this case from the Wilkens case of 2003, showing the efforts Dixon put into supporting the statements that were made about the need for the trial judge to recuse herself.

Good for the Court.  There are some limits on the authority of the Disciplinary Commission to protect judges from the rights of litigants through the attacks on their lawyers.

Let’s see if this portends any outcome in the Wemhof or Ogden cases now in the process.

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Child Porn, and other automatic disqualifiers 

Gary Grant, a Cal lawyer, was found by the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to have used email to register for a PayPal account, in order to purchase and download child pornography.  With over 100,000 images deemed pornographic, ICE found 19 photos and one video of youths who appeared to be between the ages of 14-16.

Grant pleaded “innocent” but later admitted that a few photos of underage girls were downloaded, and promptly deleted.  Such a deletion does not remove the photo from the computer.  He pleaded guilty to one charge of felony possession, and the prosecutors dismissed two other charges: the sentence was 90 days served three years probation and sex registration for life.  Grant later violated his probation, and spent an additional 183 days in jail.

The Cal State Bar automatically suspended Grant’s license, pending hearing. The Bar Court trial judge recommended disbarment, but the Bar Review Department later recommended a suspension for a period. Bar Counsel appealed the recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which at this time has not ruled.

The question before the court is the “moral turpitude per se standard” California has for lawyers.  If a lawyer is convicted of a crime that qualifies as moral turpitude per se, the disciplinary proceedings are a summary disbarment.

The article on this in the California Lawyer (callawyer.com) describes the hearsay evidence problems, since the Bar Counsel did not have access to the images, but had a computer analyst “describe the images” she had viewed. The appeal is from the Review Department panel’s conclusion that felony possession of child pornography meets the moral turpitude per se standard.  As Grant was charged with having 2 out of 100,000 images that qualified, and there was no “proof that Grant sought out child pornographic images, displayed a sexual interest in children, or otherwise intended to harm a minor” according to Judge Catherine Purcell, and it was a case of first impression, the decision was for suspension.

The history of Cal discipline for child pornography cases is described in the article.  The conclusion, in the 18 cases since 2007, none of them have been summarily disbarred.  There have been 33 summary disbarment actions in the 2011-2013 period, most for forgery, grand theft or other frauds.

The question arises: What is the purpose of the Bar Disciplinary Process?  To punish bad people who hold licenses to practice, or to protect the public?

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AUTOMATIC FEE INCREASES ARE SUBJECT TO RULE 1.8(a)

Ellen Corcella started working on a case in 2009, with a written fee agreement providing for hourly fees of $175 per hour.  When the case concluded in 2011, she billed the clients more than 60 hours at her then rate of $200 per hours.  Client files grievance, she refunds the excess of $1580 and all is well, right?

Not quite.  During the representation, the Court found that Corcella changed the fee agreement twice. The first time to a contingent agreement, then to a blended contingent and hourly fee agreement.  At no time did she give the Rule 1.8(a) warning.*

Let’s go over this again.  If you change a fee agreement, written or not, that does, or may favor you as the lawyer, you must give a Rule 1.8(a) advisory to the client.  Tell the client to take time to obtain an independent professional legal opinion that the transaction is fair and reasonable to the client.  You also must determine that the modification is fair and reasonable, and is understood by the client.  Finally, get the approval of the change in writing.  Follow the rule, with due regard for that part of the Comment as applies.  See below.

*  Rule 1.8. Conflict of Interest: Current Clients: Specific Rules

(a)    A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless:

(1)    the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;

(2)    the client is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent legal counsel on the transaction; and

(3)    the client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer’s role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction.

Comment 1 to Rule 1.8(a), in part:

It does not apply to ordinary initial fee arrangements between client and lawyer, which are governed by Rule 1.5, although its requirements must be met when the lawyer accepts an interest in the client’s business or other nonmonetary property as payment of all or part of a fee. Paragraph (a) applies when a lawyer seeks to renegotiate the terms of the fee arrangement with the client after representation begins in order to reach a new agreement that is more advantageous to the lawyer than the initial fee arrangement…

Crimes are Trouble

Georgia lawyer Arjun Kapoor was accused of committing acts of domestic violence. That is a bad thing. But the allegations came through a Family Crisis Center, and Kapoor decided to find out more about the allegations. He demanded the documents held by the Center. They rejected his demands, so he made misrepresentations to the local clerk to obtain a Subpoena Duces Tecum for the evidence. The Center knew what it was doing, so it ignored the subpoena and made a report.

The Georgia Supreme Court was not pleased. He was charged by the Disciplinary authorities, and tried to work matters out. Twice rejected for a “slap on the wrist” by the hearing officer, the recommendation was for a public reprimand. The Court found acts of Misrepresentation – violation of GA Rule 8.4(a)(4)(a) [differently numbered than the Indiana RPC] and imposed discipline.


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Resigning with Pending Troubles?

Recently several lawyers have “resigned” their licenses while facing criminal charges.  One reported in IBJ on June 18, David Rees was convicted and sentenced to four years home detention, two years probation and restitution, for stealing more than $270,000 from an estate he was managing. (The story does not say what happened to the balance of the $400,000 found missing, that was under Rees’ control.)

In Jan, 2013 Rees resigned his license on what appears from the Supreme Court docket as the day disciplinary charges were filed against him.

In June 2012 Bill Conour resigned his license, a month after charges were filed against him by the Disc. Comm.

These cases come under the Admission and Discipline Rules.  A conflict appears to exist between Rule 2(L) which prohibits “withdrawing from the practice” while under accusation, and Rule 23(§17), where the provisions allow for such resignations.

Read these Admission & Discipline Rules for context:

Rule 2(l). Affidavit of Permanent Withdrawal. An attorney in good standing, who is current in payment of all applicable registration fees and other financial obligations imposed by these rules, and who is not the subject of an investigation into, or a pending proceeding involving, allegations of misconduct, who desires to relinquish permanently his or her license to practice law in the State of Indiana may do so by tendering an Affidavit of Permanent Withdrawal from the practice of law in this State to the Executive Secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The Executive Secretary shall promptly verify the eligibility of the attorney to resign under this section, and if eligible, forward a certification of eligibility, together with the Affidavit of Permanent Withdrawal to the Clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court, and the Clerk shall show on the roll of attorneys that the attorney’s Indiana law license has been relinquished permanently and that the lawyer is no longer considered an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Indiana.

and

Rule 23. Section 17. Resignations and Consents to Discipline on Admission of Misconduct

 (a) An attorney who is the subject of an investigation into, or a pending proceeding involving, allegations of misconduct may resign as a member of the bar of this Court, or may consent to discipline, but only by delivering an affidavit and five copies to the Supreme Court Administration Office and providing a copy to the Commission. The affidavit shall state that the respondent desires to resign or to consent to discipline and that:

 (1) The respondent’s consent is freely and voluntarily rendered; he or she is not being subjected to coercion or duress; he or she is fully aware of the implications of submitting his or her consent;

 (2) The respondent is aware that there is a presently pending investigation into, or proceeding involving, allegations that there exist grounds for his or her discipline the nature of which shall be specifically set forth;

 (3) The respondent acknowledges that the material facts so alleged are true; and

 (4) The respondent submits his or her resignation or consent because the respondent knows that if charges were predicated upon the matters under investigation, or if the proceeding were prosecuted, he or she could not successfully defend himself or herself.

 (b) Upon receipt of the required affidavit in support of resignation, this Court may enter an order approving the resignation. In the case of consent to discipline, the Commission and the respondent may file a brief regarding an appropriate sanction within thirty (30) days of delivery of the required affidavit. The Court shall then enter an order imposing a disciplinary sanction on consent.

(c) An order entered under (b) above shall be a matter of public record. However, the affidavit required under the provisions of (a) above shall not be publicly disclosed or made available for use in any other proceeding except upon order of this Court.

That provision in (c) causes some concern, since an affidavit confessing the violation of the rules ought to carry some weight in other matters, if admissible.

Also, a distinction (without much difference) may exist between “resignation” and “permanent withdrawal” as Rees and Conour are eligible to petition for reinstatement in 5 years, while those withdrawing must get in through the Bar Exam or under another provision.

It seems a lawyer who offers to withdraw the law license, and is without a pending problem, should have less trouble seeking reinstatement. Practically, Rees and Conour will never practice again.

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Epidemic of Suicides in KY

Half a dozen suicides by lawyers in Kentucky has prompted increased concern.  The Indiana Law Blog excerpted a story from the Louisville Courier Journal on the issue.

All were men, most were trial lawyers, and the average age was 53.

Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program–JLAP–is available to assist lawyers troubled with their practice.

I have not seen a current table or story on Indiana lawyers, but know of too many who have used a permanent solution for a temporary problem. The 2010 Legal Education Conclave focused a session on Resiliency in the Face of Stress, for law students and the practicing bar and bench.  More still needs to be done.

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Poll Question Result:  The Georgia Supreme Court rejected a public reprimand and suspended Kapoor for six months from the practice of law.

PA Judge steals Drugs?; Former VA Bar President gets Disbarred; the Indiana Oath of Attorneys

Another PA Judge goes bad?

Pennsylvania has had a run of bad luck with its judges. In 2011, two judges were sentenced for taking kickbacks for sending kids to a private juvenile prison instead of to juvenile probation. Now a judge is charged with stealing cocaine from the evidence locker on drug cases that had been closed.

Judge Paul Pozonsky resigned abruptly last year, after questions were raised about his residency. Now charges are pending for the alleged theft of drugs from his evidence locker. Pozonsky had changed the local rules for evidence in drug cases, requiring that the actual drugs be brought to court in criminal cases, and placed in evidence. After a while State Police did an inventory of the evidence closet, and found drugs missing and evidence tampered with.

His lawyer calls it “a serious matter, and he [Pozonsky] is treating it as such.” Really serious.
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Former Virginia Bar President Bills Big – Disbarred

With a billing rate of $850 per hour, former Virginia Bar President Glenn Lewis still thought he needed to pad his bill. But there is the padding of a coffee break while on the client’s clock, and then there is Lewis’s padding.

According to the Washington Post, Lewis was “once one of the Washington area’s highest-paid and most-respected divorce lawyers and a former president of the Virginia Bar Association…” See the previous post on the Icarus Rule.

Suing clients over a bill is often a mistake (one PLP defense lawyer reports that 90% of client claims for malpractice against lawyers are, in fact, cross claims filed when the lawyer first sued for unpaid fees), but when the client you sue is also a lawyer, and the suit is for $500,000 more in fees on a divorce case where the client has already paid $382,000, and the case settled during pre-trial work, that should be a concern that was considered before filing the first lawsuit. Among the charges in the suit was a claim $253,000 in interest on the past due legal fees [doing the math, $253,000 interest on $632,000 in fees, more than 1/2 of which had been paid might be a usurious interest rate].

When a smart client gets sued for fees, and the client can afford a billing expert, the lawyer’s time records will get reviewed, very carefully. Lewis’s records could not stand up to a serious challenge, although he did stand by the accounting offered to the court. When the records started showing more than 30 hours a day billed by Lewis, the situation got sticky for him. He blamed “block billing” but that is no excuse, the Virginia Disciplinary Commission decided. The decision is appealable to the VA Supreme Court.

Lewis settled the civil case with the lawyer-client. He had asked for $500K from the client, but Lewis paid out $102K to the client. Then the trouble got worse for Lewis. Two more former clients sued, they claimed that they had paid, but Lewis did not do the work, and refused to refund retainers. Once things started falling in, they fell hard, these two got default judgments and then more claims came in.

Bar Discipline Commissions understand that working with clients can be tough, but taking clients’ money and doing no work, that is just not acceptable. It is hard to understand why the lawyers violate their Oath of Attorneys.

 

Oath of Attorneys

FYI – this is Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 22.

Upon being admitted to practice law in the state of Indiana, each applicant shall take and subscribe to the following oath or affirmation:

“I do solemnly swear or affirm that: I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Indiana; I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers; I will not counsel or maintain any action, proceeding, or defense which shall appear to me to be unjust, but this obligation shall not prevent me from defending a person charged with crime in any case; I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me, such means only as are consistent with truth, and never seek to mislead the court or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law; I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client at every peril to myself; I will abstain from offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged; I will not encourage either the commencement or the continuance of any action or proceeding from any motive of passion or interest; I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless, the oppressed or those who cannot afford adequate legal assistance; so help me God.”

The Indiana Bar Fellows dinner will join in reciting the Oath of Attorneys this Friday at the annual Fellows Dinner, this time in Chicago.  If you are interested in becoming a Fellow of the Indiana Bar Foundation, call the IBF office.

Lawyers = Icarus?; Hubris?; Conoured

An Icarus moment?

Paul Bergerin, a once prominent NJ lawyer, former state and federal prosecutor and recently a criminal defense lawyer was convicted by a jury on 23 counts, including Conspiracy to Murder – a witness, and Racketeering, in the operation of his law firm. He has been sitting in jail since 2009 on the charges, had one trial declared a mistrial, and faces life in prison now.

When the lede starts “once prominent attorney” you know the Icarus paradox is involved.

H/T Tim Kalamaros

Being the Investigator gets you Suspended

David Schalk made a serious mistake, he forgot his role as a lawyer.  Lawyers are not investigators, and should not make themselves witnesses, or more importantly criminal defendants. One sage said “Whatever you do, make sure the client goes to jail, and you go to lunch.”

Schalk had a client charged with possession of Meth. He apparently did not think that the confidential informant was legitimate, and was selling drugs himself.  So Schalk set up a drug buy by two of his criminal defendant’s friends, plus a juvenile. Schalk provided the funds and a recorder, and told the agents that “it is all legit.”

After the “agents” successfully bought some drugs they smoked some, kept some of Schalk’s money, and gave him a folded newspaper that they said contained the drugs.   Schalk tried to get law enforcement to make arrests, and so they arrested the lawyer Schalk. for Conspiracy to Possess Marijuana, and Attempt to Possess.  That was not his plan.

The court found five facts in aggravation, nothing in mitigation.  The opinion discusses his lack of insight into the misconduct and his attacks on the officers for being vindictive as evidence that Schalk needing disciplined.  So it did the deed.  Schalk got nine months without automatic reinstatement. I will explain the importance of “automatic reinstatement” in a later post.

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Conour

Recent word is that Bill and Jennifer Conour’s names still grace the atrium at the McKinney Law School.  According to the Indiana Lawyer story of Sept. 12, 2012 the law enforcement authorities were actively investigating the matter in December 2011.  That story’s lede is “William Conour, until recently, was one of Indiana’s most respected and powerful personal injury attorneys,…” (see reference above).

I think it is time for Indiana University to figure out how to get those names off the atrium wall.  Whatever it takes.  IU’s new general counsel will surely do a better job to include contract terms that fit with Herman B Wells’ admonition about naming things until five years after the person’s death, or at least have a forfeiture clause if necessary.  Coaches contracts should have morals/NCAA clauses as well.  Good luck Jackie.

Sex causes trouble for lawyers and (sr.) judge; Theft and Tax Evasion are problems too.

New York lawyers

In NYC a law firm partner got sued for sexually harassing a junior lawyer in the firm. That happens and is hardly news anymore. What got the NY Times to react was – he not only denied it, but he filed a counterclaim. She says he had his way, against her will, several times and places. Her claim, she quits her job due to his actions, and sues him and the firm.

He comes firing back and gets headlines. He says he turned her down and called a cab to take her home after she suggested that “if he wanted, she would not say no!” He says she was spurned, and “Hell hath no fury…” This will be interesting to watch. Embedded in the Times article is the so-called “lurid complaint” and the counterclaim.

Indiana Sr. Judge and practicing lawyer

Lisa Traylor-Wolff is from near my office, and was the judge of the then two-county  (Fulton-Pulaski) County Court before we asked the legislature to separate the courts in the 1990s.  Several years ago the Pulaski County voters chose another to serve as judge, and she has been practicing since that election – probably 8-10 years ago.  She has served as Senior Judge under the Administrative Rules, #5(B), since her return to private practice.

She was appointed the public defender of S.W. a prisoner at the Miami Correctional Center, and according to the Supreme Court’s Published Order “engaged in an improper romantic relationship” with the client S.W.  That was a violation of Rule 1.7 (a)(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and as she is qualified as a Sr. Judge, the actions also violated Rules 1.2 and 3.1(C) of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct.

For this Traylor-Wolff gets a lifetime suspension from serving in any judicial capacity, and a one year suspension from the practice of law, with all but 45 days withheld, and two years of probation. Among the probation terms are working with JLAP; stay away from S.W. (is he the victim?); no violations of RPC; and pay costs.

Marion County Prosecutor goes after admitted and alleged bad lawyers

Terry Curry is going after bad guys, and as prosecutor that is his (and his office’s) job.  Two recent targets are Indy lawyers David Rees and Steven Geller. 

Rees is alleged to have stolen estate funds, after eight years of administration of the estate of his client there was about $400,000 unaccounted for. He also was charged with Obstruction of Justice for filing a false “final accounting” that claimed the missing money was still in the account.

According to the Prosecutor’s press release, Rees has admitted the theft of $270,549 of estate funds, agreed to plead guilty and could face up to eight years for the Class C and D felonies.

Geller was charged with the failure to file multiple Indiana tax returns, earning an Evasion of Tax charge as a Class D Felony. Expect the federal charges to follow.

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.

Be nice to your SO; Get along with the Voters; Be a Careful Witness

Don’t Hit Your SO

BigLaw partner loses his job, and family, after being charged with assault. During a dispute with his Significant Other, King and Spaulding lawyer Steven Guynn, forgot the basic concepts of alternative dispute resolution, and allegedly resorted to hitting.

Reading the news today (and any day since you were three years old) a lawyer, especially a 59-year-old corporate lawyer, should know that hitting girls is not an effective means of winning a dispute.

He is no longer listed on the BigLaw firm’s website, and they will not answer questions about him.

These things never lead to good outcomes, Guynn’s wife has now filed for dissolution of the marriage.  The wife was not the hittee, that was his mistress (to use an old-fashioned term, which 59-year-old lawyers can do).  Several bad decisions rolled into one situation.

Too bad the generals are not reading this blog.

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The Voters have Spoken

Judge Cynthia Brim shoved a Chicago courts deputy last March, and was charged with Battery. She was also barred from the courthouse without a court approved escort, by the presiding panel of judges. Suspended from the job, and charged with a crime, she still sought judicial retention while also pleading temporary insanity for her act of Battery.

With a retention vote of 67.5%, she gets to keep her job, or at least her paycheck.

She returned to Court the day after the election, but it was to answer to the misdemeanor Battery charges. At that hearing she submitted her insanity defense to the charge. The court appointed psychiatrist agrees she was suffering from bi-polar disorder at the time of the crime, but while properly medicated can stand trial, and could return to work.

The Chicago Bar Association had recommended that Judge Brim lose her position, but the Cook County Democratic Party endorsed her retention. The voters retained Judge Brim. No report that the judicial panel has said if she can return to her courtroom yet.

As a supporter of merit selection with retention ballots, I must admit that the system is not perfect. I hope the IL JLAP program is on the case.

There are serious issues involved in bi-polar disorder, and the medical profession is working hard in its efforts to help those suffering. Lawyers and judges who are medically affected by a variety of illnesses must seek treatment early, and not allow the illness to interfere with the rights of clients or litigants. The ABA Journal report does not tell us if Judge Brim is doing that, yet.

H/T Professor George Smith.

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Trying to Make a Point as an Expert

Dean Borland is a lawyer and computer expert.  He testifies as an expert in trials. He explains his analysis with computer skills and tries to make his points to the jury in an understandable fashion.  This time he succeeded too well. [paywall protected]

In a criminal trial about child pornography, he showed the jury how easy it is to replace the face of an adult porn model with the face of a child, twice. He showed them that a possessor of such a photo would not be able to know that the image was modified.  Doing this, he committed the very crime he was testifying about, in open court, on the record, of “possessing an image modified to appear as if a minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”

He was charged with that crime, and entered a pretrial agreement with the Cleveland US Attorney, and apologized to all through the Cleveland Bar Journal.

Lesson learned, right?  Well, no. The children’s images he used were professional models, and by putting their image on the body of a nude model (makes it sound less sleazy to say ‘nude’), he exploited the children in a way that also violates the federal law. A victim of a sex crime who suffers any kind of personal injury is entitled to a judgment of not less than $150,000, irrespective of the actual damages. There were two child victims who sued.  The federal trial court first threw out the case, saying no real harm was done, but the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court disagreed.  Borland ends up paying the $300,000 for the damages he did.

As the Sixth Circuit Court said “Congress meant business in awarding the damages the way that it did.”  Borland learned that lesson the hard way, and so have you, at much lower cost.  Be safe out there.

H/T Olmstead