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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The opinion said disbarment was not an effective discipline because Williams “has essentially withdrawn from the practice of law since the early 1990s.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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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