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Disciplinary actions - Sept. 25, 2013

September 25, 2013
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Indiana Lawyer Disciplinary Actions

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission brings charges against attorneys who have violated the state’s rules for admission to the bar and Rules of Professional Conduct. The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications brings charges against judges, judicial officers, or judicial candidates for misconduct. Details of attorneys’ and judges’ actions for which they are being disciplined by the Supreme Court will be included unless they are not a matter of public record under the court’s rules.

Public reprimand
Lonnie M. Randolph, of East Chicago, received a public reprimand from the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 5, 2013.

Randolph was found to have violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.1: Failure to provide competent representation; Rule 1.3: Failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; Rule 3.1: Asserting a position for which there is no non-frivolous basis in law or fact; Rule 1.5(a): Making an agreement for, charging, or collecting an unreasonable fee; and Rule 1.16(d): Failure to refund an unearned fee upon termination of representation.

The court found that Randolph took money from a client for a sentence modification that he should have known was not possible, and then continued to seek post-conviction relief for his client but failed to adequately instruct or communicate with him. Disputes over fees ensued. Randolph has received two prior private reprimands, and he acknowledged his present misconduct by resolving this matter by conditional agreement. Cost of proceedings are assessed against him.

Randolph is an Indiana state senator representing District 2.

Lori Ann Hittle, of Cicero, received a public reprimand from the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 12, 2013.

Hittle was found to have violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(d) which prohibits engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. In April 2012, while serving as a part-time deputy prosecutor in Howard County, she pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a Class A misdemeanor. The order states that Hittle had no disciplinary history, cooperated with the Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, was remorseful, served a one-month suspension without pay from her position as deputy prosecutor, and began individual substance abuse counseling prior to the filing of criminal charges.

Suspension
Jerry L. Peteet, of Gary, was suspended from the practice of law in Indiana, effective immediately, by the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 6, 2013.

Peteet was found guilty of the following felonies under federal law: racketeering and attempt to commit murder in aid of racketeering activity. The interim suspension will continue until further order of the court or final resolution of any resulting disciplinary action, provided no other suspension is in effect.

Earl C. Mullins Jr., of Louisville, Ky., was suspended indefinitely from the practice of law in Indiana, beginning Oct. 18, 2013, by the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 6, 2013.

The suspension was reciprocal discipline imposed as the result of a suspension ordered by the Supreme Court of Kentucky. Mullins was suspended from the practice of law in Kentucky for 90 days, with 30 days actively served and 60 days probated for two years on the condition that he receive no further disciplinary charges. The Indiana court order states that if Mullins is reinstated to practice in Kentucky, he may file a Motion for Reinstatement after his minimum 30-day active suspension in Indiana pursuant to and in full compliance with Admission and Discipline Rule 23(28)(e), provided there is no other suspension order in effect.

Joseph B. Barker, of Martinsville, was suspended for 30 days from the practice of law in Indiana, effective Oct. 14, 2013, by the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 6, 2013.

During his representation of a father in a dissolution action, Barker wrote in a letter to the mother’s attorney that the mother does not understand what laws mean, probably because she is an illegal alien. The court found “accusing Mother of being in the country illegally is not legitimate advocacy concerning the legal matter at issue and served no substantial purpose other than to embarrass or burden Mother.”

The Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission charged Barker with violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 4.4(a): Using means in representing a client that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person; and 8.4(g): Engaging in conduct, in a professional capacity, manifesting bias or prejudice based upon race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or similar factors, and this conduct was not legitimate advocacy.

Barker will be automatically reinstated at the conclusion of the 30-day period provided no other suspensions are in effect.

Jeffrey D. Heck, of Carmel, was suspended from the practice of law in Indiana, effective immediately, by the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 5, 2013. Heck was suspended for noncooperation with the Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The suspension will continue until the commission certifies that he has fully cooperated with the investigation, the investigation or any disciplinary proceedings arising from the investigation are disposed of, or until further order of the court.

James C. Kotz, of Munster, was suspended from the practice of law in Indiana, effective Sept. 12, the date of the Indiana Supreme Court order. Kotz was found guilty of the following felony under federal law: interference with administration of internal revenue laws. The interim suspension will continue until further order of the court or final resolution of any resulting disciplinary action, provided no other suspension is in effect.

Resignation
Resignation from the Indiana bar by Timothy V. Clark, of Indianapolis, was accepted by the Indiana Supreme Court in an order filed Sept. 6, 2013. Any attorney disciplinary proceedings pending were dismissed.

The order states that Clark had an extensive history of discipline, including a warning that any future misconduct could lead to a sanction up to and including disbarment. The order states that the misconduct charged in the verified complaint would likely have resulted in permanent disbarment had he not chosen voluntary resignation from the bar. If Clark seeks reinstatement, the misconduct admitted in the affidavit of resignation, as well as any other allegations of misconduct, will be addressed in the reinstatement process.•

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  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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