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Attorney suspended for taking client’s children from school for hours

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A Morgan County attorney who picked up children from school on behalf of their father, who she was representing, and drove them around for several hours without notifying the custodial mother was suspended for six months.

The Indiana Supreme Court ordered Cecelia Hemphill of Martinsville suspended from the practice of law effective Sept. 7 without automatic reinstatement.

According to the court’s order, Hemphill said she concluded that the mother’s boyfriend had molested her client’s 8-year-old daughter and needed to speak to the child and her brother alone.

Hemphill went to the child’s school and told the secretary that if the father had the right to pick them up, the secretary had to release them to her because she was his attorney and he asked her to pick up the children, according to the discipline order. The secretary refused at first but felt intimidated and eventually relented, the order said. She became worried and notified the school superintendent, who told the Morgan County sheriff.

“When the sheriff told mother what had happened, she was terrified and became more upset as the evening wore on,” the order said.

Hemphill called the children’s sitter and said she had the children and was meeting the father for dinner with the kids but didn’t say where she or the children were, according to the order. After that dinner, the father left and the children stayed with Hemphill.

Hemphill “drove with the children through the back roads around Martinsville, looking for a birthday party (the daughter) had been invited to attend, relying on the children for directions. (Hemphill’s) cell phone had died and she was low on gas,” according to the order. Despite stopping at several houses, Hemphill couldn’t locate the party and returned the children to their mother at about 8:45 p.m., about six hours after taking them from school.

The court concluded that Hemphill violated Rules of Professional Conduct 4.4(a): using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person; and 8.4(d): engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

“No legitimate purpose was served by … insisting that the secretary release the children from school and driving them around for several hours without telling mother where they were,” the order stated. It said Hemphill “lacks any insight into why her conduct was wrong, maintaining that she did the right thing because she was serving a higher purpose of protecting the safety of the children. Convincing evidence was presented that this incident was not an isolated lapse.”

“Indiana has laws and procedures to deal with allegations of abuse, as well as agencies specifically designed to, charged with, and trained to deal with such allegations,” the order said, noting that Hemphill “took matters into her own hands and acted precipitously in disregard for the laws and agencies designed to deal with allegations of child abuse.”

 

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