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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The opinion said disbarment was not an effective discipline because Williams “has essentially withdrawn from the practice of law since the early 1990s.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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