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Court will hear attorney withdrawal case

December 22, 2008

The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to take a case exploring how litigants can proceed on their own after the attorney withdraws prior to trial, particularly when a language barrier may exist.

Justices on Thursday granted transfer in the civil case of Rudrappa and Jayashree Gunashekar v. Kay Grose, d/b/a America's Affordable Housing J&K Manufacturing, No. 02A03-0712-CV-614.

In an Aug. 12 unpublished memorandum opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals had reversed the trial court's denial of the Gunashekars' pro se motion to continue after their attorney withdrew from the case six weeks before trial.

The Allen County case stems from a 2002 fire that damaged a commercial building the Gunashekars owned. They hired a contractor for $147,337 of repair work, but the insurance coverage came in less than that amount. The Gunashekars' payment to the contractor wasn't honored, and that resulted in a lawsuit that was scheduled to go to trial in late July 2007. The Gunashekars' attorney withdrew in mid-June, and the trial court granted the motion to withdraw and ordered that no continuance would be granted. The couple was ultimately ordered to pay the damages, as well as treble damages, but a new attorney argued that the court should have allowed them to continue the trial in order to find new counsel.

"There is little in the record to indicate whether the Gunashekars foresaw (their attorney's) withdrawal, were at fault or were diligent in attempting to secure new counsel," the court wrote. "Nevertheless, (that attorney) withdrew six weeks before trial of a complex case with non-native English speakers potentially subject to treble damages. While several relevant concerns suggest that (his) withdrawal may have compromised the Gunashekars' presentation of their case, nothing indicates that Grose would have then been prejudiced by a delay."

The appellate court remanded for a new trial in the 2-1 decision, but Judge Ezra Friedlander disagreed that the trial court's denial constituted abuse of discretion and that a more detailed look at the facts is necessary. The judge would opt for more trial court discretion in this case and more evidence that a language barrier existed, he wrote.

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