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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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