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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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