Bad way to finish the year – Two cases, One Good Finish for the Lawyer.

Stealing from a church is bad enough, but…

To have the Ohio Supreme Court choose Christmas Eve to suspend your license might make you think that the court believes there are greater punishments in store for Mark Anthony than a long term license suspension. The underlying problem was a gambling issue. The amount exceeded $118 000 for the lawyer, who was also the business manager of the Catholic Church in Lebanon, OH. The terms of suspension require full restitution to the church’s insurer of $128,000 before he can apply for reinstatement, plus establish a gambling addiction plan, and maintain the plan.  The fact that he did not get disbarred prompted a dissent from 3 of the 7 justices. A similar, but distinguishable case of gambling prompted embezzlement had resulted in disbarment.

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Biglaw Pro Bono seems different

Lots of biglaw firms are having associates do pro bono work. That is a good thing, the young lawyers get experience, the clients get free legal services.  Winston & Strawn is among the biggest of the Biglaw firms. A former juvenile prisoner sued the City of New York as a pro bono case.  He claimed he was attacked by guards at Rikers Island, injured and not treated. The court referred the case to Winston & Strawn, who assigned an associate lawyer to handle the case.

A discovery issue broke out. The City did not respond to demands for information and for a witness for deposition. The city asked the court for a protective order, and W&S responded. The court found the city did not comply and that it was responsible for fees.  W&S asked for $20,000 for 33 hours work.  The senior associate billed at $620 an hour, three other associates billed from $390 to $570 per hour.

The magistrate found the motion and responses “very simple and straightforward” not requiring the expertise or efforts of four lawyers, and he disregarded hours billed for such issues as “preparation for filing” at 4.5 hours, and for issues in the case, but not germane to the discovery issues which could be billed.

The court set the rate for all lawyers on the case at $300 per hour and said no more than 12 hours could be charged.

** The firm in a statement said that W&S “generally donates fee awards in pro bono cases to public interest agencies after deducting for expenses.”  That is a good Christmas thing to do.

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Good to be back after a couple decades?

Bill Drozda’s troubles started in 1991, when the Disciplinary Commission charged him with 10 counts of misconduct, then increased the number to 13. They all had to do with neglect of clients cases, and the consequences of such neglect. Drozda accepted an immediate and temporary suspension, which was finalized in 1995. After finding him guilty of all 13 counts the Supreme Court imposed a 3 year suspension, with credit for time served.  As I calculate that, he had some work to do to clear up the record (pay costs, and now includes take the  multistate ethics exam).  Well he finally requested reinstatement last year, and the Court granted his return of license, 22 years after he lost it, as of Dec. 19, 2013.

Before his troubles he was a three term member of the Indiana General Assembly.

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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…

How Stupid is that Other Party?; Should I Push that Client?; Extra Punishment for Public Officials; Ogden Update

Legal writing experts tell lawyers to be careful with tone and expressions of disdain or dismissive attitudes towards opponents in motions and briefs.  And lawyers understand (usually) that what might work in traffic court should not be tried in Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals.  And lawyers who represent big clients, like State Farm Auto ought to expect extra scrutiny from courts and judges (mostly due to the respect courts often are suspected of giving to the biglaw lawyer types who represent the big companies.

Imagine what the discussion with General Counsel for State Farm was for the lawyers in Bennett v. State Farm earlier this week.  The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (one level below the US Supreme Court in the judicial hierarchy) mocked the insurance company’s lawyers for their brief opposing the efforts of the Bennetts to get what they had coming from Mrs. Bennett being struck while walking her dog.

The opening sentence of the opinion states:

There are good reasons not to call an opponent’s
argument “ridiculous,” which is what State Farm calls Barbara Bennett’s principal argument here. The reasons include civility; the near-certainty that overstatement will only push the reader away (especially when, as here, the hyperbole begins on page one of the brief); and that, even where the record supports an extreme modifier, “the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions.”[citations omitted]  But here the biggest reason is more simple: the argument that State Farm derides as ridiculous is instead correct. (emphasis is added).
Oops.  That qualifies as a slapdown.  Now we don’t know which lawyer of the team of Richard M. Garner or Gregory H. Collins, both Ohio lawyers, gets credit for the brief, but the other probably had an opportunity to say “maybe we ought to read our client’s insurance policy before we ask the court to ignore the definition plaintiff is asking for.”

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Clients in dissolution cases can be difficult. they are going through a stressful time in their lives. They often have to deal with their lawyer, the spouse, the spouse’s lawyer, and maybe the kids.  you expect them to lose their cool on occasion.

Lawyers are to be the professionals, even when our client is not dealing well with matters.as well as we want.  Kokomo lawyer Dan May, a long time practitioner, forgot for a moment.

The details are sketchy, but include him shoving the client over the courtroom railing, a battery charge, a diversion agreement, and now a 60 days suspension with automatic reinstatement.

As Sgt. Esterhaus used to say:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmg86CRBBtw

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We appreciate our public officials in strange ways.  We pay them less than they could make as practicing lawyers (at least that is the myth – see the SSF Conference Salary Survey report here from 2007).  Then when a public official has a bad moment, we hold her to a higher standard.

Lori Hittle is a part-time deputy prosecutor in Howard County.  She pleaded guilty to OVWI.  Took her punishment in court, got a month suspension from her job without pay, and now gets a public reprimand. That is a bit more than the normal lawyer gets for such an offense, often getting a private reprimand with JLAP provisions.

But we hold public officials to a stricter standard.

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Finally, Paul Ogden update.

I have commented on the Ogden disciplinary case several times, like here, and here. Paul writes about it on his blog with more regularity than most would. Tuesday Ogden said that the Disciplinary Commission is seeking a one year suspension in his post here. He follows up with more commentary in Thursday’s post here.

I will let Paul Ogden speak for himself.  The issues are complex, and important. As a lawyer, you need to think about them.  If you are not a lawyer, you ought to consider where your rights to speak freely are if the lawyers lose their rights.

Lawyer’s Speech and Advertising – Trouble in the Making

Ethnic Slurs Will Not Be Tolerated

“Your client doesn’t understand what laws and court orders mean I guess. Probably because she’s an illegal alien to begin with.”

The lesson of Joe Barker is to not use this method of trying to resolve a parenting time issue. At least I hope that is the lesson, because the only other potentially “burdensome” act is to state that “we’ll be demanding she be put in JAIL for contempt of court.” (emphasis in original).

The Indiana Disciplinary Commission filed charges and the Supreme Court imposed a 30 days suspension from the practice effective Oct. 14, but not allowing Barker to undertake new legal matters between Sept. 6 and Nov. 14.

Costly outburst, for aggressive advocacy.  No prior disciplinary issues, but Barker “has no insight into his misconduct.” Charges filed in 2010, and just now being concluded.  This matter was heard by Judge Kim Brown acting as the hearing officer for the Indiana Supreme Court.  Judge Brown has her own problems now with the Judicial Qualifications Comm. and one of the charges she must answer to related to the length of time she took in completing this matter.

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Faxing Those Canned Newsletters as a Means of Advertising 

Many of us get and a few of us have used the canned newsletters that inform our clients and potential clients that we are current on some legal topic or another.  And 25 years ago the fax machine helped make sharing our knowledge as cheap as the price of a phone call.  Now with the internet, it is even cheaper, unless!

Greg Turza, an IL lawyer got caught up in the practice of faxing newsletters to lots of folk.  He had 200 people or businesses he would fax his newsletters to.  He forgot to read the articles about the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 47 USC 227.  But a few of the recipients did not overlook that issue.  The federal law states that senders must have consent to fax advertising materials, and that unwanted faxes must have opt-out provisions on the materials. The penalty is $500 per fax, per recipient. Oops.

$4,215,000 penalty and judgment against Turza for 8,430 faxes was upheld in the 7th Circuit. Will he pay it?  If he does, then the opinion by J. Easterbrook takes on some interesting aspects with what happens to the damage award.  It looks like the lawyers will demand their $1,430,055.90, and lead plaintiff will expect his $7,500 for the 32 faxes (seems like it should have been $16,000).  Who after that will get paid?  Remanded to determine after the $1.437M is paid into the court.

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Lawyer’s Speech and Paul Ogden

Anyone who cares about the boundaries of lawyers’ freedom of speech rights and the consequences of the disciplinary process in Indiana must pay attention to the ongoing saga of Indy lawyer (for now) Paul Ogden and his long battle with the Disciplinary Commission, former Executive Director Don Lundberg, current Executive Director Mike Witte, the Supreme Court, and a Hendrick County judge in a seemly private email.

You can catch up by following this link to Ogden’s blog site, the tagline Disciplinary Commission, where it appears he is telling his side of the story. He also links to the Indiana Business Journal’s editorial on the priorities that the Disciplinary Commission has shown in pursuing Ogden instead of others, including Paul Page, David Wyser and the handling of William Conour.

The current DI matter, criticizing a judge in violation of the rules. has been heard by the hearing officer who will make findings and a recommendation to the Supreme Court.  Ogden predicts that he will lose his law license.

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Seeking Recusal as a Basis for Discipline? 

In a story that has not made local impact, except for Ogden’s blog, a pro-life website Life Site News in 2009 reported that a couple of local lawyers were seeking the recusal of a South Bend judge due to perceived prejudices of the judge’s husband, a noted advocate for abortion rights. The defendants before the judge were pro-life advocates arrested for protesting on the Notre Dame campus when President Obama spoke at graduation.

Ogden reports, and I have verified by the Clerk of the Supreme Court Docket Sheet, that disciplinary charges are on file against Thomas M. Dixon and David A. Wemhoff, the lawyers in the ND88 case.  The docket sheet does not inform the nature of the charge, but Ogden says the recusal issue, as an unwarranted attack on the judge is at the heart of the matter.

This will also bear watching, if you have a tendency to speak the truth to power, or try to protect your clients from a judge who should not hear a particular case for a particular litigant.

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I remembered these matters last week, when I got a call from a lawyer in Indianapolis, to ask about the judicial temperament and other qualities of a certain judge in Northern Indiana.

I apologize to you in advance, but for now, if you call and ask about the character, quality or work ethics of any judge, please understand that my “walks on water” response might be code.  Or it might not.

In my opinion, lawyers must be able to state facts and reasonable (to the reasonable person standard) opinions about judges in pleadings, (especially in recusal motions) and in conversations with clients, lawyers and the courts.  Judge Witte benefitted from those kinds of comments in his time on the bench, and in moving to the Commission. Other judges should have that benefit, or if they are poor judges, that burden.  We do this justice thing for those standing before the bench, not for the one on the bench or the ones at the bar.

It is dangerous if we lawyers cannot protect the rights of our clients, under the rules, by seeking the recusal of judges who are bad fits for the clients’ cases, just like we are duty bound to seek the dismissal of a juror who has some bias or prejudice against our client.

KEEP A WATCH OUT,  as Indy lawyer Patrick Olmstead and I will be speaking on advertising and ethics at the 2014 Solo and Small Firm Conference in June 2014, at French Lick.

Legal Websites with Comments – Strike Back at Critical Client? What are these Sites? Fake a Review?

Social Media is a Tool, You are a Lawyer, Don’t be the Fool

So a lawyer in the Chicago area Betty Tsamis, is active with AVVO, a lawyer rating site.  Her AVVO page is here. She has a 6.2 rating, pretty good.  Tsamis handled a case for a client, Rinehart and appealed his denial of Unemployment Benefits case against American Airlines, and the case did not go well, which happens.  Whose fault?  It depends on who you believe.  Client wrote an unfavorable review and said that he paid her fee, which she took “knowing full well” he would lose the case.

The trouble for the lawyer came about when Tsamis replied with facts and information that she got during the confidential client communications. The details are here. She stated in the reply to his review that he had beaten up a woman co-worker, and not advised her of that before she filed the appeal. (If you beat up co-workers, you usually do not get UE coverage).  The IL disciplinary office has filed charges for breaching Rule 1.6 of the RPC.  Tsamis still posts replies to critical comments, but they are now toned down.

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The Ratings Game – Martindale Hubbell to AVVO to Super Lawyer to Yelp, and beyond.

Lawyer ratings were once the sacred province of now absorbed publisher Martindale-Hubbell. Today there are several lawyer and law firm ratings sites,  Avvo (above) offers ratings on lawyers and other professionals. [full disclosure, my AVVO rating linked here]  AVVO seems the most aggressive of the new generation.  MH did the same kind of ratings, but in the old days, the rating was bound in a series of books taking up 5-6 feet of library shelf space and costing hundreds of dollars and updated yearly, but MH is now is found online at http://www.martindale.com {my martindale.com rating is here].  AVVO allows client comments, as does Martindale. Both sites focus on lawyers and other professionals.

Another new entrant in the legal and medical fields does it differently. SuperLawyers.com names what it calls the “super lawyers” in most of the states. It works with magazine publishers and sends out ad-filled supplements annually on lawyers nominated and selected as the best.  [full disclosure – I am told I have been nominated, but I have not been selected as a super lawyer (or as a colleague calls them “the superest duperest lawyers”) in Indiana]. There are several ethics opinions on the propriety of advertising the designation. Most states seem to have lost interest in prosecuting this issue, even though there are regulations on lawyer advertising.

Yelp offers webpages for most businesses in the country, in an online “yellow page” style that gives the business name, address, phone number, and then lets customers comment on every business in town, from spas to restaurants and lawyers. The business owner can claim the page and edit the information about the business.

Breach of Yelp’s Policy

San Francisco lawyer Julian McMillan stands accused of taking the review matter just a step further, by allegedly having his staff create and post favorable reviews.  Favorable reviews are hard to come by, and may have a positive economic benefit to the lawyer praised. As Ms. Tsamis can attest, unfavorable reviews may have more impact.

So Yelp claims that it monitors and prosecutes businesses and now lawyers who abuse the comments policy. It should be noted that McMillan responds that he had sued Yelp and won in the trial court on an advertising contract dispute.  He suggests this is payback by Yelp.

We will see how this comes out over the next few months.

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Ernie the Attorney’s take on these matters!

The leading blogger in the legal field, Ernie the Attorney and I were discussing the “dangerous tool” of social media last week.  I do not agree with ethics guru Stephen Gillers, that all lawyers should avoid social media, and who Ernie takes apart in this post (else I would not be posting here).

Any tool can be dangerous.  Lawyers get trained  to look out for danger in every area of life. I advocate removing dangerous tools from idiots and infants, who are found in lots of places.

I hope there are few idiots and no infants among the lawyers who are posting on any of the social media sites. But still be careful out there, and learn how to run spell checker on the site.

“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

Want Fewer Troubles? See a small firm lawyer; Prenda Redux; Township Courts

I had a good week leading up to and at the Indiana Solo and Small Firm Conference June 6-8 at French Lick Indiana. Kudos to Marc Matheny (also of the National SSF Conf. Board and the ABATECH Show Board) who chaired the conference this year and next.

Indiana’s conference was its largest yet, and I chaired the new series of courses called STAFF TRACK, which added to the knowledge and skills of law firm staff members.

Why do I say if you want fewer troubles see a small firm lawyer? Last month AM LAW, a leading legal publisher came out with an article on the latest big law survey by Altman-Weil Co. on where the law and practice is headed.  Steve Harper, an author and blogger interpreted the AM LAW article here.

His topic sentences are “The Troubling Big Picture; Group Stupidity; Lateral Incompetence; Institutional Ineptitude; and, Cognitive Dissonance” finding the focus of the leaders of the big firms as wrongheaded:  When asked to identify their greatest challenges over the next 24 months, most managers cited “increasing revenue.” The rest of the list is, in order: new business, growth, profitability, management transition, cost management, and attracting talent. If you’re wondering where clients fit—other than as a source of revenue and profits in items one, two, and three—“client value” finished eighth.

He summarizes the report of the responses by 250 of the largest 800 firms, as follows:

•Managing partners know that change is coming and clients are demanding it, but firms aren’t revisiting their basic strategies or business models.

•Growth and profits finish far ahead of enhancing client value as most law firm leaders’ top concerns.

•Leaders view aggressive lateral hiring as critical to law firm growth, but when laterals don’t produce, most firms don’t do much about it.

•Succession planning is problematic because senior partners don’t want to relinquish compensation that is tied to their client billings.

•As senior leaders continue to pull up the equity partner ladder on the next generation, morale plummets and managing partners worry about the absence of midlevel talent to serve clients in the future.

Client Value comes in Eighth? (One commentator was surprised the clients made the top ten at Biglaw!)  No wonder the mood at the SSF Conference was upbeat. Our “big” siblings at the Biglaw Firms are now leaving the good clients to those of us who care.

H/T Patrick Olmstead.

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More on Prenda Law.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a federal judge is ticked-off at the Chicago law firm Prenda, that was pursuing copyright violations against folks it alleged had viewed internet pornography in violation of the copyright law.  Tying the copyright violation with the fear of exposure for that private act, lots of folks were settling the claims, and others who did not do so prior to the suit quickly settled before court notices were out.

In the earlier reports the judge said from the bench that something was not right. Well now he has unloaded on the lawyers, with this Order of the Court.  In an eleven page order he finds violations of Rule 11, (requiring lawyers to know the facts that they are alleging have some basis in fact) and acts of fraud upon the court.  He orders the firm to pay $81,000+ to the Court in 14 days to repay the John Doe defendant in the order for costs and attorney fees. The judge doubled the fees requested by the lawyers, due to the egregious acts of the Prenda firm.

The judge also reports the two lawyers in his case to the Disciplinary Committee of the State of California, plus every other state where they practice, and every court, both state and federal, where the lawyers have cases pending. He says they suffer from a moral turpitude that should not infect the bar.

Just to top things off, he sends his report to the US Attorney’s office to consider RICO charges and to the IRS for investigation of every lawyer in the law firm.

Moral of the story: Federal Judges do not play games with scoundrels.

H/T Vic Indiano

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Marion County Township Courts

More coming on this issue soon. Will the Legislature or Supreme Court do anything? I have recently had a chance to read the Small Claims Task Force Report: Report on the Marion County Small Claims Courts, authored by Court of Appeals Judges John Baker and Betty Barteau, Sr. Judge.

Some solid recommendations that went no place in the Indiana Legislature.  What will the Supreme Court do?  Will the Legislature do anything?

Is it all on WTHR 13 News to push the changes? I had a conversation on fees, ethics, and lawyer and judge discipline with Sandra Chapman this week.  It will be interesting to follow this story.