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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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