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

When you, a lawyer, are in trouble, hire a competent lawyer; NY Times on Billing Troubles Abound with Fraud Allegation; More on Fee issues – what is a “document review” billing entry worth?

Can you believe this guy is [might once again be] a lawyer?

It is reportedly a heart stopping moment, you get a certified letter from the Disciplinary Commission inviting you to explain some complaint made against you.  It has to be even more disconcerting when the Commission files, and serves you with its Verified Complaint; now you are past the informal opportunity to solve the problem.

The Best Practice is to hire a competent lawyer to help you at the first letter, but if you don’t, then hire one at the complaint stage – you failed to get yourself off, get help.

Before you go to lunch, find someone, call and set an appointment. Do not go out for the afternoon golf game.  Save your license.

Jeffery Fetters had even been through the process before. In 2012 he started down a path he had previously walked in 2005.  This time he did not read the A&D Rules that govern the disciplinary process.  He misfiled his answer to the complaint. The misfiled answer did not meet the standards for an answer to a complaint. He apparently took the whole process lightly.

Just like he took the duty of effectively representing his client in the eviction process. He won the immediate eviction hearing, but did nothing after that, and eventually refused to talk to the client about the problems.

The court found the following violations:

The Court finds that Respondent violated these Indiana Professional Conduct Rules prohibiting the following misconduct:

1.2(a): Failure to abide by a client’s decisions 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(b): Failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions.

8.1(a): Knowingly making a false statement of material fact to the Disciplinary Commission in connection with a disciplinary matter.

Lots of failures there, and no effective way to answer the allegations because he did not follow the rules, or hire a competent lawyer to assist him.
What do you think the Court did? Answer is below.

DLA Piper in More Trouble

In March, I reported the biggest of the BIGLAW firms that may have gotten caught engaging in serious bill padding. And this was a billing problem of the magnitude of a $200,000 over-estimate, and it was as much as $675,000 in dispute. The NY Times article updating us on the value of the dispute now is here.

One rule of being a smart lawyer is to be real careful before deciding to “sue a client for fees.”  It is on many of the “do not ever do this” lists right before “fool around with the staff, nobody will ever know,” and after “what is a small loan from the trust account going to hurt.”  There are a lot of reasons, not to sue a client, and I will mention a couple illustrated by this case:

1 – you already created a litigation tiger and now you grabbed him by the tail.  Clients going through a lawsuit are often seriously ticked off, and to then be sued by your lawyers, the people you put your trust in, really gets under most clients’ skin.

2 – if you sue your client, be sure that you don’t have a smoking gun in the file, or on the computer. That means you don’t have anything that suggests, let alone shows that you were padding the bill or committing malpractice or ethical violations, or anything else, anywhere in a letter, an email, an interoffice communication, or on a scratch pad. Discovery is getting good.

If you think your client owes you $675K, then the client probably has the resources to spend another $500K searching your database.

Another reason to use a smaller firm?

The Times quotes a “billing ethics professor” (I did not know we have ethics professors who specialize in billing matters – but now know why we do) in this paragraph:

In a survey of about 250 lawyers that Professor Ross conducted in 2007, more than half acknowledged that the prospect of billing extra time influenced their decision to perform pointless assignments, such as doing excessive legal research or extraneous document review. There is also the issue of “featherbedding,” he said, or throwing armies of bodies at every problem.

When your law firm does not have “armies of bodies” hanging around looking for something to do, the “featherbedding” issue is mooted to a great extent.  And when your lawyer or small team of lawyers, that you know by name, are working on your matter, the thought of performing “pointless assignments” is not near as tempting as it might be if you are teaching a large class of first year lawyers the ways of research or the firm’s ethics of billing.

The most recent news in the case?

His [Victor’s] lawyer, Larry Hutcher at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, amended the countersuit last week to include a fraud claim and a request for $22.5 million in punitive damages, a number representing 1 percent of DLA Piper’s reported revenue last year. (my emphasis)

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The other end of the Canada case.

Last week we discussed the Canada case, where the fees, though flat, were earned, and upon the client’s demand did not need to be returned.  Octavia Snulligan did not understand that rule before Canada was decided.

She too requested a flat fee, but did not appear to do the work required, or at least she could not satisfy the client that she was doing the work that was expected.  After five months she was fired, and the client wanted part of her retainer money back. Snulligan refused, and when she was asked for an invoice, she crafted one. She, like many lawyers do not keep time sheets, but she created one anyway, and showed 37.8 hours of work, in 32 entries.  28 of the entries were for “Document Review” without further explanation. The hearing officer, the commission and the Supreme Court were all unimpressed with the reconstructed time records.

So unimpressed that it was the most serious aggravating factor found. It was “calculated to mislead the Family, the Commission and the Hearing Officer” said the Supreme Court.

Snulligan got a retainer of $6,000 on a flat fee of $12,000. She had the case for five months and said she had worked it. The court said she failed to refund the unearned portion, which the hearing officer calculated as $5,000 in unearned fees of the $6,000 she had received.

The court goes out of its way to say that a “$12,000 total fee, or her collection of $6,000 of that fee before she was terminated would [not] have been unreasonable” if she had been able to complete the representation. But she did not, she was discharged and had not met the Realtor’s Rule of getting to the close before getting fired by the client.

Another good discussion on fee issues by the court, helping the bar to better understand where the line of good behavior ends before you get into bad behavior.

What do you think the Court did? Answer is below.

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Fetters got Six month suspension without automatic reinstatement [follow link to find out about automatic reinstatement], with a requirement for restitution for reinstatement.

Snulligan got a 30 day suspension without automatic reinstatement, but with a proviso that if she refunds the $5,000 in overcharged fees, she may petition for immediate reinstatement.

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.