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Attorney in contempt for violating suspension

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The Indiana Supreme Court fined an attorney for being in contempt of court for work he performed for clients while he was suspended. The justices noted that while they haven't attempted to provide a comprehensive definition of what constitutes the practice of law, they found some of the activities the attorney admitted to performing to constitute the practice of law.

Douglas Patterson was suspended in June 2008 for engaging in attorney misconduct for conversion of client funds, deceit in concealing his misconduct, and dishonesty with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The Supreme Court suspended him for a period of no less than three years beginning July 31, 2008

In the April 30 order posted online June 19, In the Matter of Douglas W. Patterson, No. 82S00-0402-DI-90, the Supreme Court decided Patterson's review of a proposal to unsecured creditors of his client was not a routine transaction. Patterson worked with a couple who owned two corporations on Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions in 2008. Even though a new attorney entered an appearance for the corporations after Patterson's suspension, he continued to perform some work on the bankruptcy. He admitted to proofreading the proposal with regards to the couple's exemption rights, making sure the proposal's description of the bankruptcy process was accurate, and advising the couple the proposal offered unsecured creditors with more than they would receive if they filed for personal bankruptcy.

The Supreme Court found those actions to constitute the practice of law under the circumstances of this case. And although the high court hasn't provided a comprehensive definition of what constitutes the practice of law, Patterson's actions in this case caused him to be in contempt of court. Citing previous caselaw and disciplinary actions, the justices explained the core element of practicing law is giving legal advice to a client. The practice of law also includes making it one's business to act for others in legal formalities, negotiations, or proceedings. Non-attorneys also may not give advice or opinions as to the legal effects of the instruments they prepare or the legal rights of the parties.

Because Patterson's violation of his suspension appeared to be limited to this transaction, the justices concluded a $500 fine was the appropriate discipline. They also noted they will take this incident into consideration if Patterson seeks reinstatement to the practice of law.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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