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Disciplinary Actions -1/6/12

January 4, 2012

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission brings charges against attorneys who have violated the state’s rules for admission to the bar and Rules of Professional Conduct. The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications brings charges against judges, judicial officers, or judicial candidates for misconduct. Details of attorneys’ and judges’ actions for which they are being disciplined by the Supreme Court will be included unless they are not a matter of public record under the court’s rules.

Suspension
Lawrence T. Newman, of Marion County, has received an 18-month suspension without automatic reinstatement for violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.4(a)(4), 1.5(a), 1.16(a)(3) and 1.16(d) for failing to comply with a client’s reasonable requests for an accounting of the hours he worked prior to being discharged, by charging an unreasonable fee, by failing to withdraw from representation promptly after being discharged, and by failing to return the client’s file after its retention was no longer necessary to secure payment of the fee. The disciplinary action involves work that Newman did in helping to represent a client in disputes over the operation of a closely held corporation left by her father in his estate. An agreement said that Newman would be paid $195 an hour, payable upon receipt of the client’s distribution from the estate, plus 25 percent of the distribution. After a few weeks of representation, the client sent a letter asking the attorney to stop all work. She later terminated his employment and asked for an accounting of the legal work performed. But Newman filed a notice of his intent to hold an attorney’s lien on the client’s distribution for his hourly fee plus the 25 percent, and it took more than three years for the client to receive her file after being ordered to pay Newman about $8,500 for work he performed. Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Justices Brent Dickson and Frank Sullivan ordered the sanction in a per curiam opinion on Dec. 20, but Justice Robert Rucker disagreed with one of the alleged rule violations and would have opted for a 90-day suspension. Justice Steven David didn’t participate. The suspension begins Jan. 31, 2012.

John G. Clifton, of Allen County, has been suspended from the practice of law for 180 days, with automatic reinstatement, beginning Jan. 20, 2012. The Indiana Supreme Court ordered the suspension in a Dec. 8 order approving a conditional agreement with the Disciplinary Commission, finding that Clifton violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.1, 1.4(a), 1.4(b), 3.4(c) and 3.4(d) that involve failure to provide competent representation; failure to keep a client reasonably informed; failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions; knowingly disobeying a court’s rules; and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Clifton admitted to seven counts of misconduct for indicating to the Allen County Public Defender’s Office in October 2006 that he was available to handle criminal appeals despite his inexperience in that area of law. During the course of a year, Clifton was appointed to represent seven criminal defendants. In these cases, he committed numerous violations of the appellate rules. In one case, he told his client the case couldn’t be appealed because the client entered into a plea agreement, when in fact the appeal had been dismissed for noncompliance with appellate rules. Clifton failed to heed warnings by the Court of Appeals pointing out deficiencies and caused additional, unnecessary work for the court and Indiana attorney general. The Supreme Court found that Clifton doesn’t have any disciplinary history, cooperated with the commission and has worked to correct his behavior.

Ryan L. Strup, of Marion County, has received a 90-day suspension from the practice of law for violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b), which prohibits committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer. The Dec. 9 order from the Indiana Supreme Court involves Strup’s pleading guilty to Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated stemming from a November 2003 incident. That happened before Strup’s admission to the bar in 2005. He pleaded guilty to OWI based on a November 2010 incident, which led to self-reporting his arrest and entering into a monitoring agreement with the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program that required he refrain from alcohol use. He failed two urine tests in March and May 2011, and in June, he admitted to his JLAP caseworker that he’d continued to consume alcohol despite the agreement. The Supreme Court approved the conditional agreement, finding that Strup has no disciplinary history, has completed a 30-day residential treatment program, continues with an aftercare program and is meeting regularly with a JLAP monitor for random drug screens. The suspension is stayed subject to the attorney’s completion of two years of probation, including JLAP monitoring.

Public reprimand
Martell B. Royer, of Lake County, has received a public reprimand for violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.3, 3.2 and 8.4(d) for failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; failure to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of a client; and for engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (by disregarding the administration of the estate and inconveniencing the court and beneficiaries). In 2002, Royer represented an estate’s personal representative, and after some activity, the estate remained dormant until 2007 when the beneficiaries filed a petition for an order to show cause why the representative shouldn’t be removed. The representative failed to appear at a motion hearing and the court held her in contempt. Royer withdrew at the personal representative’s request in 2008. Royer has a public reprimand from 2002, but also has a long history of service to the personal representative and her family. The high court also noted that he advised the representative of her duties, that the representative was no longer cooperative with Royer after September 2002, didn’t respond to attempts to contact her and that Royer had no personal knowledge of any misconduct by the personal representative until the 2007 removal petition.

James R. Wiesneth Jr., of Vigo County, has received a public reprimand for violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.3, 1.4(a)(3) and (4) and 1.16(d) for failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and respond promptly to reasonable requests for information; and for failure to refund an unearned fee after being terminated and failure to return a client case file materials. The disciplinary action involves Wiesneth’s representation of a mortgage holder in 2009 regarding a debtor dispute about loan arrearage. The client paid a $1,500 flat fee for representation in a foreclosure action and the attorney failed to obtain services, neglected the case and failed to respond to numerous attempts of communication by the client. After the client discharged Wiesneth and retained new counsel, Wiesneth failed to refund any part of the flat fee and failed to turn over the complete case file to the new attorney. Wiesneth provided a letter and invoice to the client after this grievance was filed saying the entire flat fee had been earned despite not finishing the work, and it wasn’t until after the Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint did Wiesneth refund $900 of the fee. The commission found in mitigation that Wiesneth had no disciplinary history and accepted responsibility. In a Dec. 9 order, Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker dissented with the sanction because they believe it’s insufficient in light of the attorney’s admitted misconduct.•
 

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