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Court of Appeals allows legal malpractice case to continue

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The legal malpractice action filed by a man who pleaded guilty to money laundering – when he had the possibility to plead guilty to a misdemeanor if not for his attorney’s actions – will proceed after the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the attorney’s motion for summary judgment.

Edward Blinn Jr. filed the legal malpractice complaint against Marion attorney Shane Beal in 2007. Blinn was being investigated by the FBI and hired Beal as his attorney. Beal allowed Blinn to enter into a proffer agreement with the government. In exchange for his truthful cooperation, the government would allow Blinn to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to not use Blinn’s statements against him if the government later decided to file more serious charges.

But Blinn only participated in one proffer session; Beal did not respond to federal agents’ attempts to contact him for months. When he was finally cornered in the courthouse by the agents, Beal said Blinn was no longer interested in cooperating. Beal did not inform Blinn that the FBI wanted to continue speaking with him. Blinn was later indicted on a federal felony money laundering charge, to which he later agreed to plead guilty.

This case led to a malpractice complaint by Blinn against Richard Kammen, who represented Blinn after he was indicted. That complaint was dismissed. Robert Hammerle, who also represented Blinn in the matter and negotiated the plea agreement, received a public reprimand in 2011 over his fee arrangement with Blinn.

In Shane Beal and The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company v. Edwin Blinn, Jr., 27A03-1306-PL-235 , Beal is seeking summary judgment in the legal malpractice complaint, which the trial court denied based on a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Beal’s conduct during the federal investigation resulted in a harsher sentence for Blinn.  

“Beal represented Blinn in a federal criminal action, despite Beal’s limited experience with federal litigation, his unfamiliarity with the legal construction of a federal proffer session, its purpose and its consequences, and his failure to convey a request for further interviews as part of the proffer session to Blinn. Designated evidence reflects that a completed proffer session might have resulted in a reduced sentence. As such, there is a genuine issue of material fact whether Beal’s conduct resulted in a harsher sentence and even jail time for Blinn,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

The judges rejected Beal’s argument that public policy bars a person convicted of a crime from imposing liability on others through a civil action for the results of his or her own criminal conduct. Under his theory, a criminal defendant, once convicted, could never pursue a legal malpractice claim.

“[T]he determination that, based on the evidence and argument at trial, a criminal defendant is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is not the same as the issue of whether the lawyer’s negligent representation contributed to or caused the resulting conviction. Beal’s argument, however, allows criminal defense attorneys to hide behind their own negligence by asserting the client’s conviction—albeit caused by the lawyer’s negligence—as a defense to a claim of legal malpractice,” Riley wrote. “The public not only has an interest in encouraging the representation of criminal defendants, but it also has an interest in making sure that the representation is, at the very least, not negligent.”

Beal resigned from the Indiana bar in August 2013.

 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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