ILNews

Court: Michigan lawyer to stay away for 2 years

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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An embattled Michigan attorney is barred for two years from taking any new cases in Hoosier courts, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

Justices issued a per curiam opinion today in disciplinary action In the Matter of Geoffrey N. Fieger, No. 98S00-0609-DI-340, finding the attorney committed misconduct by making material misrepresentations in a sworn application for temporary admission to St. Joseph Circuit Court in late 2005. Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Theodore Boehm and Robert Rucker agreed on the two-year penalty. Justice Brent Dickson wanted to bar Geoffrey Fieger permanently, while Justice Frank Sullivan opted to follow the conclusion of a hearing officer who'd found in favor of the attorney.

The Indiana Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint in late 2006 against Fieger, who isn't regularly admitted to practice here but has sought temporary admission at times - including earlier this year when he handled a federal trial in Indianapolis involving a Ball State University shooting.

Fieger was accused of violating state ethical rules by lying about past or then-present disciplinary actions against him in other jurisdictions, something that was asked when he applied for limited admission to the Indiana bar for a criminal case.

Fieger has been licensed in Michigan, Arizona, and Florida since 1980. He asked to be admitted as pro hac vice as co-counsel for a plaintiff in St. Joseph County, admitting under oath that "formal" disciplinary proceedings were not presently pending against him anywhere. However, he had a disciplinary action appeal pending before the Michigan Supreme Court at the time, his Arizona license had remained suspended since 1993 for not meeting mandatory continuing legal education requirements, and other ethical violation accusations had resulted in his censure elsewhere.

In today's Indiana action, justices chastised Fieger for trying to manipulate the rules and use technicalities to disguise his disclosure inadequacies - such as adding the word "formal" to the language of the disclosure rule to protect himself from a charge of dishonesty in unfiled complaints; and that no "proceedings" were underway.

"In any case, the change in wording shows Respondent gave careful consideration to the scope of his duty to disclose and chose not to mention the Michigan action," the opinion states about both examples. "There is nothing in the rule or Indiana law to suggest that the term (proceeding) can be interpreted to include loopholes of any sort. Respondent had no authority to alter the language required by the Disclosure Rule to narrow its scope or create a loophole."

In issuing its sanction, the court relied on Matter of Fletcher, 694 N.E.2d 1143 (Ind. 1998) that involved a temporarily admitted attorney misleading a judge that clients weren't at a location when deputies attempted to serve them there. That penalty was two years, also.

Fieger rose to prominence in the 1990s as suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian's lawyer. He has since risen to the status as a millionaire attorney and leader of a high profile firm specializing in personal injury suits. He unsuccessfully ran for Michigan governor in 1998. His latest stretch of disciplinary actions that were ultimately reversed by the Michigan Supreme Court involved comments he made on his public radio show comparing some of that state's appellate judges as "Nazis" for ruling against him in a case.

The Indiana disciplinary sanction comes at the same time Fieger faces federal campaign contribution charges in U.S. District Court in Detroit. He and his law firm partner are accused of paying employees "bonuses" to cover contributions made by others to Democrat John Edwards in the 2004 presidential campaign. That trial has been ongoing for 18 days and is expected to go to a jury next week.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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