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Failure to report

August 28, 2013

The arm of the Indiana Supreme Court that enforces rules governing the admission and discipline of lawyers has been in violation of one of those rules for several years.

The Disciplinary Commission hasn’t produced an annual report in recent years, Supreme Court spokewoman Kathryn Dolan confirmed. The last annual report posted on the commission’s website as of IL deadline was from fiscal year 2009-2010.

“The reports weren’t put online because they’re not ready yet,” Dolan said. “We’re not trying to make a statement about why, it just wasn’t done. It was an oversight.”

Admission and Discipline Rule 23(23) states, “The commission shall make an annual report of its activities to the Supreme Court and the Indiana State Bar Association. The report shall include a statement of income and expenses for the year.”

While the commission didn’t meet the requirements of the rule, Dolan said financial information for those years was provided to the court, but not the state bar. She said the financial information was provided to the bar last week after the error was discovered.

The commission derives its revenue almost exclusively from a portion of the licensing fees attorneys are required to pay to retain their bar status.

According to financial information provided by Dolan, the commission had more money in the bank in the 2012-2013 fiscal year than in any previous year – an opening fund balance of $1,606,403. The commission budgeted collecting about $2 million in fees and spending about $2.3 million. Employee salaries, benefits and associated costs consumed about $1.9 million of the budget.

The information projected the commission would carry over an opening balance of about $1.45 million into the current fiscal year.

Disciplinary Commission executive director Michael Witte did not respond to messages seeking comment about the absence of annual reports.

Indiana State Bar Association President Dan Vinovich said the association received financial information from the commission last week. “Once it was determined those reports needed to be filed, they have now been filed,” he said.

Vinovich said the annual report was a “technical requirement and not a significant problem or concern of ours.” He noted the state bar receives advance notice of attorney suspensions, for instance, and updates on court functions from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Office of the Attorney General at annual meetings and other forums.

Officers in local bar associations who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity said the commission’s failure to file annual reports was disappointing.

“Is it catastrophic? No,” said an officer of one of the state’s largest county bar associations. But the problem is one of perception of the commission: “They expect everyone to follow the rules. They should do the same.”

An attorney in southern Indiana who holds a county bar leadership post agreed. “I’m surprised,” the commission neglected to file reports for thee years, the officer said. “They should do that.”

But the local bar officers said most attorneys in their communities had a generally positive view of the commission’s work and that local bar groups usually are well informed of disciplinary actions or matters affecting local attorneys.

“I think (lawyers) are respectful of the commission and the responsibility they have,” the southern Indiana bar officer said.

“I would say attorneys as a whole view the Disciplinary Commission as doing a good job,” said the large-county bar official. “Perhaps the commission needs to work on some transparency issues. I think that’s what we all should be striving for.”

The work of the commission has been included in the annual reports prepared by the Supreme Court, but that section in the court’s most recent report for fiscal year 2011-2012 contains no financial information. The commission reported 66 final orders in discipline cases. A total of 34 verified complaints for disciplinary action were initiated that fiscal year, 29 less than the prior year.

Commission chairwoman Catherine Nestrick said a new case management system implemented to better track cases resulted in the delay in completing annual reports.

“As with many software implementations, we had a number of issues to work through and this caused a delay in the preparation and publication of the 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 annual reports,” Nestrick said in an email. She noted the 2009-2010 report was only this summer reconciled with the new system and posted online.

“The remaining reports are in the process of being finalized and we expect them to be available very soon,” she said. Dolan said the reports will be posted online when they are completed.•

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