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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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  1. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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