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Before Stewart & Irwin closed, lawyers talked about mergers

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A nine-decade-old Indianapolis law firm’s abrupt closure remains unexplained as Stewart & Irwin P.C.’s leadership declined to discuss what led to the decision.

“It’s not important to go into,” said former Stewart & Irwin President Mary Schmid, now general counsel for Kleenco Maintenance/Construction Inc. in Alexandria.

Stewart & Irwin ceased practice without a public statement or acknowledgement. In early June, its top-floor offices at 251 E. Ohio St. in Indianapolis were locked after a private gathering a few days prior for people who had worked there.

Representatives of some clients listed on the firm’s website who spoke to IL on condition of anonymity said they received notice letters from the firm just a few days before its closing at the end of May. Those clients said they continue to have relationships with former Stewart & Irwin lawyers who moved on to different firms.

While Schmid and others in the firm’s leadership said nothing about the firm’s closing before and after it happened, rumors had swirled for weeks. Many attorneys, including equity shareholders, had been seeking an exit for months.

“This is something that came about somewhat gradually,”

said Donn Wray, a former Stewart & Irwin equity shareholder and one of six attorneys who migrated to Katz & Korin P.C. He called Stewart & Irwin’s decision to close “a natural consolidation of the legal marketplace.” Before the firm closed, Stewart & Irwin’s website listed 24 lawyers, including 13 shareholders and equity shareholders, about one-third fewer than five years earlier.

Multiple sources said that Stewart & Irwin and other firms had engaged in merger discussions dating back a year or more, but none worked out.

Several lawyers landed with Bose McKinney & Evans LLP. “We actually had begun discussions with various Stewart & Irwin attorneys over a year ago, and we were exploring different options,” Bose managing partner Jeff Gaither said.

“My sense is that Stewart & Irwin spoke to a number of different firms, including Bose, about potential mergers or about acquiring larger groups of attorneys, and that led to where we are,” he said.

Meanwhile, a former Stewart & Irwin of counsel attorney has sued the firm and former equity shareholders, claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees owed to him were wrongly withheld. Former firm partners said the complaint was baseless and unrelated to the closing.

Scott Treadway, now in private practice in Carmel, filed the pro se complaint alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment in Marion Superior Court in May, noting in the complaint Stewart & Irwin’s rumored closing.

Treadway claims in the suit that he maintained his legal practice separate from Stewart & Irwin and rarely performed legal services for the firm. But he maintained an office there, utilizing the firm’s attorneys on an as-needed basis on cases he says he brought to the firm.

He claims he and the firm had an agreement in which Stewart & Irwin would collect his receivable fees, retain a portion to cover the firm’s administrative costs, then cut him a check for the remainder each month. “I think they found my relationship with them financially beneficial,” he said.

Treadway claims, among other things, that the checks stopped coming after he moved out of the firm’s offices in September 2010. He said he filed the complaint as a last resort when it appeared the firm might be closing. “I had hoped to get this resolved amicably, and it seemed relatively straightforward,” he said.

Schmid said the suit had nothing to do with the decision to close and was “wholly without merit.” Former partners named in the suit said it would be vigorously defended.

Former Stewart & Irwin partner Edward Bielski, who left the firm more than a year ago but is named in Treadway’s complaint, said he wished Treadway well but laughed off the litigation. “All you need is a pen to file a lawsuit in Indiana,” Bielski said. “I haven’t given it an iota of though except a chuckle.”•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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