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Criticism of judge results in discipline case

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Indianapolis attorney and blogger Paul Ogden speaks his mind, sometimes to his disadvantage, he concedes. Now he could lose his law license because of things he wrote.

But the outspoken Ogden isn’t going quietly. He’s instead going after the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, seeking to shift the inquiry from his email criticisms of a judge to what he claims is an abuse of the attorney discipline process.

“I think they have a grudge against me,” Ogden said. “I did touch the third rail … I criticized the Disciplinary Commission.”

Ogden argues in a counterclaim filed last month against the commission that the case against him violates his First Amendment right to free speech and that he’s being targeted. He said the verified complaint filed against him in March arises from a grievance filed after he wrote an item critical of the commission in January 2011 on his “Ogden on Politics” blog. The item asserted that during a particular period of time, just three of about 400 disciplined attorneys worked at Indiana’s 24 largest firms.

“Within a few months, respondent was hit with his first grievance,” Ogden said in his counterclaim. One of two charges in the verified complaint against Ogden is that he violated Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2 by criticizing Hendricks Superior Judge David Coleman in emails Ogden sent opposing counsel in a concluded estate matter.

Ogden wrote that Coleman “should be turned in to the disciplinary commission for how he handled this case. If this case would have been in Marion County with a real probate court with a real judge, the stuff that went on with this case never would have happened.” Ogden claimed, among other things, that the estate’s value dwindled from about $1 million to almost nothing due to improper oversight.

The commission charges that those and other statements were false or reckless, and that Ogden implied the judge “was either dishonest, or allowed others to be dishonest in the administration of the estate.” Ogden, in response, defended his criticism and noted Coleman had been removed under a Trial Rule 53.1 “lazy judge” motion.

Coleman said Ogden’s claims went far beyond protected speech. Coleman acknowledged he erred in failing to rule on a motion within 30 days, but he said Ogden made unfounded accusations about him in a case where three judges presided at various times.

“One of the implications was that I was friends of the family, which I was not,” Coleman said. “The implication was I somehow conspired with the executor to cheat some of the heirs out of the estate.”

After Coleman received copies of the emails, he asked Ogden for an apology. “In 20 years on the bench, I have never had an attorney attack my integrity in writing in this manner,” Coleman wrote. Ogden refused, citing his First Amendment rights in his reply. “I stand by my statements regarding how you handled this estate,” Ogden wrote.

Coleman said an apology would have spared Ogden a disciplinary complaint. But Ogden said he stands on principle. “I believe strongly the only way things are going to change, particularly in this profession, is if people speak out for reform and advocate for change.”

Disciplinary Commission Executive Director G. Michael Witte said he couldn’t address details of Ogden’s case, but said attorneys’ speech is naturally more highly regulated.

“We’re in a position where our speech is held to a higher standard because of the impact of that speech,” Witte said. “Even outside of lawyer discipline, free speech is not absolute.”

Witte said a hearing officer would be appointed to hear Ogden’s counterclaim. Citing the commission’s confidentiality rules, Witte declined to address whether the commission has handled prior counterclaims in discipline cases.

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law associate professor Margaret Tarkington has written on the intersection of the First Amendment and potential discipline.

Tarkington describes Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2 as “a trap for lawyers” in an article by that title published in the Association of American Law Schools Professional Responsibility Newsletter. She said the rule incorporates the Supreme Court of the United States standard of New York Times v. Sullivan 376 U.S. 254 (1964), that speech regarding a public official is protected unless it is made with actual malice – knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false. Indiana’s Rule 8.2 also follows the Sullivan line of cases, forbidding attorneys from statements about judicial officials “the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.”

“The vast majority of states interpret that rule as applied to the judiciary to mean something very different,” Tarkington said. The standard for attorneys commenting on the judiciary she said is closer to, “If you say it, you’d better be able to prove it, which is not what the rule says, and it’s probably unconstitutional.

“It’s almost as far away from a Sullivan standard as you can get,” she said, noting it’s not unusual for attorneys to be disciplined for judicial criticism. Tarkington’s article, “The Truth Be Damned,” published in the 2009 Georgetown Law Journal, reviews numerous instances of such discipline.

Provided details of the complaint against Ogden stemming from the email, Tarkington said it’s important that the context wasn’t in a judicial proceeding where the truth-seeking function of the justice system requires a higher level of accuracy in attorney statements.

“He didn’t even put it on his blog,” Tarkington said. “An attorney should be able to talk about the judiciary in an email.”

Tarkington argues that disciplining attorneys for speech presents dangers. “We have an elected judiciary and lawyers are the ones who know the most about how a judge acts, and (lawyers) best know the law that judges are supposed to follow,” she said. “The problem is you’ve silenced all the people with knowledge.

“You’re basically shielding the judiciary from effective criticism by the people who know,” Tarkington said, “and I think that’s a really big problem.”

The second charge in the complaint against Ogden concerns a letter he wrote to several Marion Superior judges. Ogden said the letter aimed to inform judges about an Indiana Supreme Court decision regarding asset distribution to the Common School Fund in civil forfeiture cases. The commission contends the letters are ex parte communications that violate Rule 2.9 and Rule 8.4(d). Ogden said he had no pending matters before the judges who received the letter, which he said also was copied to the attorney general, county prosecutor and others.

With his disciplinary case pending, Ogden filed an original action with the Indiana Supreme Court this month asking that a grievance filed against him in 1994 be dismissed. The commission responded that the grievance, which claimed Ogden made untrue statements about a then-magistrate in 1990, had been dismissed in 2008. The court dismissed the action, in which Ogden had also requested the court consider a statute of limitations and deadlines in discipline cases.

Ogden said he was never notified about the dismissal. Then-commission director Donald R. Lundberg, now a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, said he couldn’t speak to the particulars of the 1994 complaint, but said, “matters are not dismissed without notice.”

Ogden said a grievance active 14 years merits scrutiny. “As an attorney, I have a right to know what they’re claiming, and they should not be allowed to let things linger for this period of time.”

Witte said he could not say how many pending grievances or complaints are more than a decade old, citing confidentiality.

“Sometimes an investigation remains open for a long period of time where a statute of limitations doesn’t prevent it from being closed,” he said. “Every complaint has its own life and its own reasons for investigation or for holding in abeyance. … We go on a case-by-case basis.”•

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  • Thanks Mickey
    For renewing this discussion. J's comments below really should be acted upon, but would any Hoosier newssource report if such was taking place? I am pretty sure this would not be interested.
  • Thanks Mickey
    For renewing this discussion. J's comments below really should be acted upon, but would any Hoosier newssource report if such was taking place? I am pretty sure this would not be interested.
  • Anyone who
    Anyone who has been in the courts knows, justice is NOT a goal. I had a judge tell me in open court, 'the constitution is not a good argument' The highest law of the state was superseded by statute. Statute that is wholly based on the constitution!2179
  • hold the wood
    Yet another law prof has come out to denounce the plan to burn Ogden at the stake. http://advanceindiana.blogspot.com/2013/10/another-law-professor-sides-with-ogden.html
  • Freedom rising?
    In a potentially related story, Lois Lerner was FIRED today for abuse of her office in violation of the constitutional rights of those despised by the elite class.
  • Freedom rising?
    In a potentially related story, Lois Lerner was FIRED today for abuse of her office in violation of the constitutional rights of those despised by the elite class.
  • Private E-Mail to a Judge Long After Case Decided
    In Tennessee lawyer sends a private email to a bankruptcy judge criticizing a poison pen Memorandum explaining a final decision in the matter published by the judge almost a year earlier. Lawyer waited until the appeal was unsuccessful then stated his views about the opinion and inquired why the judge thought it proper or necessary to express his ruling in libelous language. Tennessee Board has charged that the private email was impermissibly ex parte and that it violated Tennessee 8.2(a)(1) because it said harsh things about the Memorandum and dared the judge to provide an explanation.
  • Not infallible
    Perhaps if the judicial system didn’t spend so much time haranguing lawyers who speak out against judicial misconduct, the court/Disciplinary Commission could have pulled William Conour’s license and stopped him years earlier from taking even more millions from his disabled clients. Another attorney spoke out against Conour’s misconduct years ago, yet Conour continued to practice and continued to use his client’s settlements as his own “personal banking system.” Whoever is responsible for that colossal failure to act should be prosecuted by any of the clients who fell prey to Conour during that time frame. I’m with J; there needs to be a system to cattle-prod those who fail to act and to publicize misconduct of attorneys and judges to warn the public. When a Pope is ordained, the Church teaches that he becomes infallible. Judges don’t enjoy the same virtue… but some seem to think they do.
  • WHAT???? GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!
    Disciplinary Commission Executive Director G. Michael Witte said he couldn’t address details of Ogden’s case, but said attorneys’ speech is naturally more highly regulated....GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!! THE TRUTH IS THE TRUTH. IF AN ATTY OR EVEN YOU WITTE, IS A LIAR OR A THEFT OR PLAN LAZY AND DONT DO YOUR JOB IT NEED TO COME OUT. YOU JUST MESSING PPL AROUND AND TAKING THEIR MONEY. BELIEVE ME IT IS WELL KNOWN BY OTHERS IN THE PROFESSION BUT COWARDS ARE SCARE TO COME FORWARD UNLIKE ODGEN. ANNNND, RATHER THAN BEING SUSPENDED.. THERE NEED TO BE JAIL TIME. I DONT CARE WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE...NO ONE SHOULD BE ABOVE THE LAW. ODGEN WE NEED MORE OF YOU...KEEP SPEAKING YOUR MIND.
  • They need a secondary commission
    I believe they need a consumer complaint organization that monitors judges and lawyers both when the judges, lawyers, and commission fail to act. They refuse to eat their own. It would not surprise me to see the Commission refusing to investigate claims of attorney misconduct to protect one of their own. Transparency is needed. There should be a group that publicizes the misconduct of attorneys and judges. If I weren't in the business, I would start it myself.
  • STAND TALL
    Ogden, you are a person of your beliefs and i admire you. Let nothing or no one stop you from being true to yourself. Me and others, im sure, stands with you. Keep STANDING TALL for what you believe.
  • not good
    they are pushing these cases against lawyers too far. thought-crime.

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  1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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