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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. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  2. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  3. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

  4. My dear Smith, I was beginning to fear, from your absense, that some Obrien of the Nanny State had you in Room 101. So glad to see you back and speaking truth to power, old chum.

  5. here is one from Reason magazine. these are not my words, but they are legitimate concerns. http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/03/fearmongering-at-the-splc quote: "The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new "intelligence report" announcing that "an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) -- a 244% jump." To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn't demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely. As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible." --- I wonder if all the republicans that belong to the ISBA would like to know who and why this outfit was called upon to receive such accolades. I remember when they were off calling Trent Lott a bigot too. Preposterous that this man was brought to an overwhelmingly republican state to speak. This is a nakedly partisan institution and it was a seriously bad choice.

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