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Split court chooses suspension, not disbarment

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Supreme Court today suspended a Bloomington attorney for at least three years, though the chief justice and another justice wanted disbarment because this is the lawyer's fourth disciplinary proceeding since being admitted in 1970.

The disciplinary decision came in the form of an 11-page per curiam opinion, In the Matter of David J. Colman, No 53S00-0607-DI-248. The court found that Colman engaged in attorney misconduct in several estate planning tasks: by participating in preparation of a will for a non-relative that would have given him or his son a substantial gift; by representing a client when there was a conflict of interest due to Colman's personal interests; by failing to hold property of a client separate from his own; by failing to keep a client's funds in a clearly identified trust account; by entering into an improper business transaction with a client; and by charging an unreasonable fee.

For the misconduct charges, the court suspended Colman for at least three years starting July 1, but Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Brent Dickson dissented as to the sanctions in separate opinions.

Both noted that Colman's pattern of misconduct shows a more serious sanction is warranted, since he had been readmitted in the past following a "very substantial federal tax evasion, a federal felony conviction, and an 18-month suspension" of his law license.

"It is difficult to imagine that any future expressions of remorse about these actions could be persuasive, such that readmission might occur," the chief justice wrote. "And, it is hard to fashion an argument for the public that Respondent's behavior has been such that we might at some future date want, again, to tell clients they can entrust their own dearest matters to him. I thus vote to disbar."

Justice Dickson noted that when Colman was convicted of a federal tax evasion felony in 1996, he was part of the unanimous vote on the court not to disbar the attorney but to suspend him for a substantial time before he was eventually reinstated in 1999.

"On reflection, I should have, but did not, dissent to these per curiam decisions," Justice Dickson wrote. "I choose, however, not to make the same mistake a third time, and agree with Chief Justice Shepard that the respondent should be disbarred for his misconduct."
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