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2 attorneys suspended over real estate deal

December 11, 2009

Two attorneys have been suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court for their representation of a client in a real estate contract in which one of the attorneys had a financial interest.

In the combined disciplinary action released today, In the matter of: Jeffrey S. Rasley and In the Matter of: David M. Wood, Nos. 49S00-0808-DI-468, -467, Jeffrey Rasley and David Wood worked together in the same firm. A "seller" in the business of rehabbing and selling distressed real estate sold some property to the "buyer" he met through a third party in 2002. That third party brought Rasley into the transaction when the buyer borrowed $11,500 from Rasley to improve the property. The buyer signed a note for repayment, which was secured by a second mortgage on the property. The seller signed a mortgage on the property which held the seller and buyer liable in case of default.

The buyer fell behind on payments and Rasley had his law partner, Wood, send a letter to the buyer and seller saying Rasley would foreclose the property if the debt wasn't repaid. Rasley later said he wouldn't foreclose if a monthly interest payment was made to him. The seller interpreted this to mean that the seller was responsible for the payment since the buyer had no money.

Then the seller asked Wood about hiring his firm to represent him in a dispute with the buyer over the property because he thought Rasley would refrain from asserting his claim against him. Rasley attempted to resolve conflicts between himself and the seller; the two agreed the seller would assume the buyer's obligation to Rasley and they could jointly sue the buyer if necessary. The seller was never informed that he could consult outside counsel about the agreement.

In 2004, Rasley sent a letter demanding the seller pay the firm's attorney's fees, and acknowledge his priority on the lien of the property, or else he'd sue. The seller eventually agreed to settle the case by paying Rasley $15,600.

The Supreme Court unanimously found Rasley violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.7(b) based on his representation of the seller, and that Wood violated Rule 1.7(a) for his representation of both Rasley and the seller. Rasley and Wood lacked insight into their misconduct and expressed no remorse for it, the per curium opinion stated. The justices concluded Rasley didn't intentionally harm the seller and worked diligently to help him gain control of the property. Neither respondent has any disciplinary history.

Rasley will be suspended 120 days without automatic reinstatement and Wood will be suspended 30 days with automatic reinstatement because of his lesser role in the misconduct and his junior position to Rasley in experience and within the firm. The suspensions begin Jan. 22, 2010.

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