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Elkhart attorney suspended for ‘lack of respect’ for clients and courts

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The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended an Elkhart County attorney for at least two years after finding he committed numerous violations of the Indiana Professional Rules of Conduct, including throwing away client files that contained confidential information.

Those client files of Joseph Lehman were tossed into a trash bin where they remained several days. A newspaper reporter found information in the files relating to paternity and divorce cases as well as Social Security numbers and financial information.

The disciplinary action suspending Lehman, handed down Feb. 19, also says the attorney has failed to appear at numerous hearings in cases and has been held in contempt – even jailed – for such failures. He has failed to include filings with a signature, required notices, and correct case numbers and court names. The action also says that Lehman habitually filled out bankruptcy schedules incompletely and commingled client and attorney funds.

The order states: “Judges before whom Respondent practices gave detailed testimony regarding Respondent's deficiencies in 16 different cases. They testified that Respondent has consistently practiced far below the average level of performance for attorneys in Elkhart County, that he has failed to respond to attempts by the judges to help him improve his deficiencies, that he failed to follow through with an agreement to contact the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (‘JLAP’) for an assessment, that Respondent's deficiencies have created a tremendous amount of trouble for court staff, and that his conduct hurts his clients and the court system.”  One judge testified that Lehman shows “a complete lack of respect” in his client representation and “an utter disregard of court orders.”

Lehman has no disciplinary history and has represented many clients to a successful completion; however, the hearing officer found in aggravation, among other things, that Lehman has refused to acknowledge his misconduct, the “sheer volume of the repeated violations, apparent dishonesty, and lack of any effort to address or apologize for the problems indicate unfitness to practice” and “he has a contemptuous disregard for the most basic professional obligations.”

The justices found he violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.1; 1.2(a); 1.6(a); 1.9(c)(2); 1.15(a); and 8.4(d); as well as Ind. Admission and Discipline Rules 23(29)(a)(2), (3), and (4).

The suspension begins April 3 and he must petition for reinstatement.
 

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  • Careful Linda
    Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.
  • Justice
    If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

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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.

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