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Temporary admissions may create problems

April 25, 2012

atm-rules.gifLawyers not licensed in Indiana must be admitted temporarily or on a motion when appearing in a case in this state. A local lawyer must also serve as counsel and vouch for the visiting lawyer’s lack of disciplinary history when filing a motion for admission or when a lawyer applies for pro hac vice status – a temporary admission that applies to a single case only.

But lawyers may not be aware that any time they sign off on a visiting lawyer’s qualifications, they are assuming a risk.

G. Michael Witte, executive secretary for the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, said that when he was a Dearborn County judge, many lawyers applied for temporary admission.

“I was getting pro hac vices fairly regularly, and many times the Indiana attorney that was serving as co-counsel would put in the pleadings that they’re serving as the ‘sponsor’ of the out-of-state attorney, and I would contact the Indiana lawyer and say you’re not a sponsor, and you better familiarize yourself with the rule, because you’re putting yourself on the hook,” Witte said. “Ninety percent of the time when I would make that call to an attorney, they would say, ‘I didn’t realize that. Thanks, judge.’”

The rule Witte refers to is Rule 3, Section 2 of Indiana Rules of Court, Rules for Admission to the Bar and the Discipline of Attorneys, which sets forth several requirements for pro hac vice admission to state courts. Even a minor oversight, such as failing to renew pro hac vice status, can result in disciplinary action.

“When the lawyer doesn’t renew his license in January, now you’re faced with another discipline problem, and that’s UPL, or practicing without a license, and the Indiana lawyer who serves as co-counsel is now aiding and abetting the UPL,” Witte said.

Indiana’s federal courts have different rules for the admission of out-of-state lawyers, and from state to state and court to court, rules about temporary admission vary. Being unaware of a court’s rules can cause far-reaching problems for lawyers, across multiple states.

Communication gaps

While a judge in Dearborn County, Witte revoked pro hac vice status for an Ohio attorney for repeated failure to appear. That attorney – Clyde Bennett II – was subsequently suspended in his home state for a felony conviction. Bennett has been admitted to practice again in Ohio, but his attorney discipline and sanction history on the Supreme Court of Ohio website does not show that Witte revoked his pro hac vice status here, even though Witte submitted a copy of that order to Indiana’s Supreme Court. Darla Little, administrator for the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, said she was not aware of a standardized process for reporting these types of disciplinary actions to other states. Court officials say disciplinary actions involving lawyers with pro hac vice status in Indiana is rare.

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