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Court criticizes appellate attorney for not citing material

January 1, 2007
The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court's decision that a man convicted of felony forgery must submit a DNA sample.

But that's only part of today's seven-page decision in James Keeney v. State of Indiana, No. 21A01-0611-CR-495, which goes on to admonish an appellate attorney who filed a brief with uncited material.

In this case, Keeney challenged last year Fayette Circuit Judge Daniel Pflum's order, which said Keeney needed to submit a DNA sample after pleading guilty to forgery and receiving a four-year sentence. Some of that time was suspended and ordered for home detention, and Keeney objected to the order on grounds of a Untied States Supreme Court decision last year. The appeals court agreed with the state that the higher ruling isn't enough to overrule the state law and previous court decisions, and affirmed the sentence.

But the ruling didn't end there.

"Unfortunately, we must call attention to the fact that the appellate attorney for Keeney has filled her brief with uncited material," the court wrote.

"... The importance of proper attribution cannot be understated. While lawyers and judges regularly borrow reasoning from others, both ethics and the appellate rules require that the source be given credit. Nonetheless, Keeney's appellate attorney merely transplanted the [U.S. District Court of Massachusetts'] order into her brief as if it was her own work," the court continued.

The court wrote that the brief's entire "argument" section is a near-verbatim replication of a recent memorandum and order in a case that isn't cited or relied on in Keeney's appeal. The "inadequate" brief did not advance any argument or help Keeney's case, the court wrote.

"We confine our criticism here to an admonishment," the court wrote, noting that it had the authority to strike the brief, order the appellate attorney to receive no fee or return with interest any fee already received, refer the matter to the Indiana Supreme Court's Disciplinary Commission for investigation of potential rule violation, or to hold the attorney in contempt. "We choose, however, not to sanction Keeney's attorney beyond the reprimand within this opinion."

The attorney called out in the ruling is Sarah Nagy of Indianapolis

"If I made a mistake, all I can do is learn from it and try not to do it again," Nagy said this afternoon, noting she'd not yet read the opinion and was shocked to learn about the admonishment. "No one's perfect, and if we do something wrong, that's why we have judges, to help us learn from it."
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