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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

    2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

    3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

    4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

    5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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