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Divided justices suspend attorney for 2 years

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A Hancock County attorney was suspended for two years after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 opinion that he charged unreasonable fees to an elderly client, converted funds belonging to her, and was dishonest before the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

Thomas E.Q. Williams was suspended for two years without automatic reinstatement effective Sept. 7, according to an order the Indiana Supreme Court released Friday. Justice Mark Massa joined Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. in a dissent in which they would have disbarred Williams.

Williams was sued in 2002 after a client, M.D., revoked power of attorney upon learning that her account at a retirement facility was past due. A trial court ruled Williams failed to properly account for the elderly client’s expenses and his services for which he fraudulently billed $93,500. The court awarded the damages against Williams of $67,292, and the disciplinary grievance was filed.

The disciplinary order notes that after the disciplinary commission filed its verified complaint against Williams, he argued for the first time that he used his client’s funds “to produce for her a gospel following her near death and other writings or perhaps publishing with M.D.’s funds since these things may be something a little different from what a usual trusted friend would do with funds.”

“Respondent's nearly complete lack of even rudimentary records of his dealings with M.D.’s property under the POA is a fact in aggravation of his professional misconduct,” according to the per curiam opinion.

“We also find the following additional facts in aggravation: (1) Respondent's groundless attacks on M.D. and others associated with her when she attempted to obtain the accounting to which she was legally entitled; (2) his dishonesty in denying under oath in this case that the funds he took from M.D. were for legal services after he repeatedly and unequivocally stated under oath in the civil suit that they were for attorney fees; and (3) his lack of remorse for any of his misconduct.”

The opinion said disbarment was not an effective discipline because Williams “has essentially withdrawn from the practice of law since the early 1990s. Thus, from his vantage point, disbarment is a non-event — it would simply prohibit him from doing that which he has not done for nearly two decades. And because disbarment is permanent, he would have no incentive to come to grips with the pain and suffering he has wrought.”

But Sullivan and Massa wrote in dissent that disbarment was appropriate.

“I would not provide an opportunity to return to practice to a lawyer who, after helping himself to his frail and elderly client’s money, says the money was a gift after his first explanation that it constituted payment for legal services was rejected by a court,” Sullivan wrote.


 

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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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