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Court orders attorney’s fees following bad faith appeal

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found a Colorado attorney and his brother engaged in procedural bad faith in appealing the third amended final accounting of their deceased mother’s estate and ordered them to pay appellate attorney’s fees to the estate.

Attorney Robert New and his brother James appealed the St. Joseph Probate Court’s denial of Robert’s combined motion to correct error, motion for relief from judgment, and motion for reconsideration of the court’s approval of their mother Martha’s estate’s third amended final accounting. The estate sought appellate attorney’s fees and wanted the Court of Appeals to dismiss the brother’s appeal.

Robert, instead of seeking pro hac vice admission to practice in Indiana, pursued the appeal pro se. He and James appealed the division of certain assets of the estate among the four siblings; whether James was improperly deprived of reimbursement of costs advanced on behalf of the estate; whether the probate court erred in approving the estate’s attorney’s fees; whether the personal representative properly accounted for certain debts owed to the estate; and whether the probate court failed to give James and Robert adequate notice and time to respond to the estate’s third amended accounting.

In James and Robert New v. Personal Representative of the Estate of Martha New, No. 71A04-0912-CV-744, the appellate judges found the two brothers waived all of their arguments for appeal except for whether the probate court gave them adequate time and notice to respond to the accounting. The brothers’ presentation of the other issues didn’t comply with Indiana Appellate Rule 46(A)(8)(a), lacking citations to the record or to applicable authority.

James and Robert argued that the final accounting was approved by the probate court nine days after it was submitted and without notice to the parties, and thereby the court erred as a matter of law. The third amended final accounting approved is a final order subject to challenge under Trial Rule 59 or on appeal, because it constitutes a final judgment, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey. Therefore, the brothers had no right to notice or an opportunity to be heard on it after the estate submitted it for court approval.

James and Robert argued that logic means they would have to accept whatever was reported in the final accounting without benefit of any review and pointed to errors in the second amended final accounting that were corrected as examples of the type of errors they claim would be avoided by their approach.

“This argument is simply not credible,” wrote the judge. “Moreover, under James’s and Robert’s interpretation of the statute, every accounting would require notice and a hearing. Thus the only way an estate could be closed is if all interested parties agreed to the accounting with no objection. … We refuse to adopt an interpretation that would lead to an absurd result that is so contrary to the purpose of Indiana’s probate scheme: to close the estate ‘as promptly as possible.’”

The appellate judges also found the brothers engaged in procedural bad faith. Their appellate briefs failed to present an appropriately framed statement of facts or proper argument on many points, and they presented a statement of facts littered with argumentative statements that don’t comply with the standard of review. The judges remanded for the assessment of attorney’s fees in favor of the estate.

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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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