The Indiana Supreme Court handed down a private reprimand to a Shelby County attorney who engaged in misconduct by hiring
a nonlawyer inmate to help research and prepare a post-conviction relief petition for another client.
The attorney had been assigned by the State Public Defender as an independent contractor in 1998 to represent an incarcerated client in a PCR proceeding. That client consented to the attorney entering into an agreement with a nonlawyer inmate in the same facility to help with the PCR petition as an independent legal assistant. The attorney agreed to represent the nonlawyer inmate in his own PCR proceeding.
The nonlawyer inmate had limited access to communication and research materials and no expectation of privacy. The attorney wasn’t able to supervise the inmate or ensure he would be able to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Even though the events took place more than 10 years ago, a verified complaint wasn’t filed until 2008.
The justices found in a per curiam opinion, In the matter of: Anonymous, No. 73S00-0812-DI-626, that the attorney violated Professional Conduct Rule 5.3. The Disciplinary Commission and attorney submitted a conditional agreement for discipline suggesting a private reprimand. The justices agreed to the discipline, but noted that it would impose more severe discipline if there wasn’t an agreement.
The justices also took into account that the misconduct happened more than 10 years ago and that the attorney’s record in nearly 30 years of practice is otherwise unblemished.