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Disciplinary Actions - 9/29/10

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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
Kenneth E. Lauter of Morgan County was publicly reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court for violating Ind. Prof. Cond. R.1.5 (b) and (c). The court issued a per curiam decision in the case Sept.17, 2010.

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission charged Lauter with violating Ind. Prof. Cond. R. 1.5 (b) and (c) and 1.8(a); however the hearing officer concluded Lauter did not violate any rules and recommended judgment for Lauter. The disciplinary commission sought Supreme Court review of the hearing officer’s findings.

Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker dissented, believing that the disciplinary commission did not prove a charged violation by clear and convincing evidence and that the hearing officer correctly found no violation.

In May 2003, a client hired Lauter and his firm to pursue an employment discrimination claim. The client signed a written attorney services contract that provided for a contingency fee based on the amount recovered – one-third if settled prior to trial, 40 percent otherwise. It also called for an “engagement fee” of $750, which the client paid. The contract also contained a hand-written notation in the bottom margin, initialed by the client, calling for an “additional retainer fee payable if client and firm agree to file federal court litigation.” The client and Lauter agreed to leave the amount of the additional retainer undetermined until Lauter had completed due diligence and decided whether to proceed to federal court. Lauter testified that a typical engagement fee for an attorney taking an employment discrimination case is $5,000, whether or not federal litigation is involved.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found no probable cause in December 2003 so Lauter filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the EEOC file. He received the file in February 2004 and contacted the client the next day to tell her he believed the case had sufficient merit to proceed to federal court. He also testified that he reminded her of the additional retainer that she had initialed and said it would be $4,250 – which was not reduced to writing. He did not advise the client that she might want to consult independent counsel before agreeing to the amount. Three days after their conversation, the client wrote a check to Lauter’s firm for $4,400 that included $150 filing fee and the $4,250 additional retainer. The client’s lawsuit was successfully settled, and the client recovered $75,000 from the defendant May 15, 2006. Lauter’s total fee was $30,000 (the $750 engagement fee, the $4,250 additional retainer, and the $25,000 one-third contingent fee).

“Respondent’s structuring of his fees so clients whose claims are resolved at the administration level pay a lower fee than those whose cases must go to court appears intended to benefit his clients and is certainly not to be discouraged. The problem in this case is that Respondent gave no indication to the client of what the additional retainer would be or how it would be determined,” the court wrote.

Because Lauter and the client agreed at the outset to leave the amount of the additional retainer undetermined until later, the court determined Lauter did not violate Rule 1.8(a). •
 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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