ILNews

Exclusive: DeLaney speaks about attack, civility

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

If he hadn’t become a lawyer nearly four decades ago, Indianapolis attorney Ed DeLaney knows that choice could have prevented the attack that he believed was going to end his life.


Taking down his shingle also could be a way to prevent something similar in the future, he realized. But the thought of leaving the legal profession hasn’t crossed his mind once.

“Clearly, I wouldn’t have been attacked if I was not a lawyer, but I couldn’t give this up and I can’t be pushed out,” DeLaney said. “I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen, but I’ve pushed to make this have as little impact as possible. You can’t let it impact you like that, or you’ve lost.”

ed delaney Ed DeLaney knows he wouldn’t have been attacked if he wasn’t a lawyer, but it gave him a new perspective of the legal system. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Rather, what happened to him Oct. 31, 2009, has strengthened his view of the legal profession and criminal justice system, not only giving him faith that what he does is right but proving that all attorneys need to do a better job in respecting, promoting, and protecting their own.

The veteran attorney who’s been practicing since October 1973 said his experience last year gave him a view he’s never had of the legal system before – that of a victim.

Before DeLaney’s attack, he’d faced threats and had heard of other attorneys’ encounters with danger, but he never had his own experience. His history is full of legal matters and cases where violence would have been expected: a case involving a murdered reporter, some of the nation’s most contested election recounts, and war crimes overseas. But this wasn’t something that presented that kind of danger, he said.

His encounter came on Halloween, a Saturday morning, when he met with a man who’d called asking for legal help on a potential real estate deal for Russian investors. DeLaney occasionally represents Russian clients and is fluent in that language, so it didn’t seem suspicious.

As it turned out, the man – Augustus Mendenhall – used a fake name to disguise his identity. Mendenhall had a long-standing grudge against DeLaney, who had worked a 1983 case involving Burke Mendenhall, Augustus’ father. A building the father owned outside Lafayette Square Mall was to be rented to an adult bookstore, and DeLaney’s mall developer client filed a suit to stop it. The Marion County prosecutor filed a civil suit to seize the bookstore, and the case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Mendenhall won on the issue, long after he’d agreed to not bring an adult bookstore there. But the litigation lasted, with the father at one time filing his own federal suit seeking $75 million in damages over lost business and harm to his reputation, but that case was ultimately dismissed.

At the time, the younger Mendenhall was about 12 years old but would have spent a chunk of his childhood exposed to whatever legal issues his family was caught up with. He blamed DeLaney and took it out on him during the attack.

Mendenhall was wearing a wig, gloves, and a strange coat when DeLaney picked him up from a church parking lot and drove him to look at the property in Carmel. At one point Mendenhall reached into a large zippered bag to get a retainer check, and instead he pulled out a .25-caliber pistol wrapped in a plastic bag, DeLaney recalled.

Mendenhall asked DeLaney if he’d had ever hurt anyone in a lawsuit, and wondered if he was right with God as he aimed the gun at the attorney’s head. But when he pulled the trigger, the gun jammed.

The two struggled, and DeLaney tried to escape as Mendenhall tried to keep control of the gun. Then, friends of DeLaney’s who live nearby drove by and stopped to talk. They noticed DeLaney making odd gestures to them – a signal DeLaney came up with to alert them. They called police, but DeLaney didn’t know that at the time and tried to escape. That led to continued beating and struggling until the police arrived and subdued Mendenhall. The attack left DeLaney with broken bones around his right eye, five broken ribs, a punctured lung, and cuts on the back of his head.

DeLaney said he recovered physically from the incident in about three months, but nearly a year later he’s still recovering mentally and emotionally. After the attack, the longtime lawyer – who is also a state representative – dove into his legislative duties and that took his mind off of what had happened to him.

He hopes the culmination of the weeklong trial can help put this behind him. Jurors delivered Sept. 15 a guilty but mentally ill verdict for Mendenhall, convicting him of attempted murder, robbery resulting in bodily injury, aggravated battery, criminal confinement, and misdemeanor resisting law enforcement. His sentencing is set for Oct. 15, and he faces 100 years in prison.

Testifying twice during trial, DeLaney said he spent a little more than an hour on the stand. He doesn’t remember much of what he said, nor does he remember that the judge called a recess to give him time to recover from an emotional breakdown. He later learned about that from media accounts of the trial.

“I vividly remember every detail of what happened and I’ll never forget it, but I have nowhere near that kind (of recollection) about the trial,” he said. “I’ve been in court a lot, but never like this where I was a central witness. It was so strange to be in that position.”

When he wasn’t testifying, DeLaney said he was separated from other witnesses and stayed out of the court. His wife, attorney Ann DeLaney, attended most of the trial that he couldn’t watch.

Before this, he had no idea about what it felt like during that separation of witnesses, and he felt that he was isolated from everything happening in the courtroom. That experience has given him a greater appreciation for someone who is not a “willing” or “neutral” witness, DeLaney said.

Ann DeLaney said it’s been a tough year, and like her husband she mostly regrets that this incident impacted their family, grandchildren, and the legal profession. Sitting at trial, she sometimes struggled to remain silent and found herself wanting to get up and make an argument herself. But she refrained, and overall she’s found herself appreciating how the process has played out.

“What’s encouraging is that no matter how horrific this past year has been, the system worked,” she said. “The prosecutor, defenders, judge, and jurors all did their job. As difficult as it can be to live through something like this, you take some solace from the fact that the system worked as it’s supposed to.”

Ed DeLaney said he hasn’t yet decided what he will say at the sentencing hearing, or really how he ultimately feels about the outcome of the case. He’s spent a lot of time pondering that, and plans to do much more before the sentencing.

“I didn’t believe in vengeance before this event, and I don’t believe in it now,” he said. “This is not a case that cries out for great sympathy, though. All I know is that it’s a loss, a terrible waste.”

While the attack itself is a serious and concerning matter, DeLaney finds even more troublesome the chilling fact that his attacker is an attorney, graduating from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis in 2008. That same year, the DeLaneys’ daughter Kathleen was assigned to review Mendenhall’s character and fitness as part of her work on the review committee that screens applicants for the bar. Mendenhall asked for another attorney and was given one; he was later admitted to the bar in October 2008.

The Indiana Supreme Court suspended Mendenhall in a June 2009 order, and that disciplinary action has largely been on hold until this criminal case concludes. DeLaney saw that his attacker had been suspended last summer, but he hasn’t paid much attention to that action.

“He violated the most fundamental rule of being an attorney – that you will uphold your oath,” DeLaney said. “You go to law school to resolve matters peacefully – that’s the whole basis for our legal system, to avoid violence. This is a negation on everything we try to do as lawyers.”

Lawyers need to be aware of what’s happening around them and potential safety risks, but they also must take more pride in the profession and practice civility as much as possible, he said. This type of “attorney attacking attorney” incident damages the overall profession, he said.

That Mendenhall had the ability to put himself through law school and make something of himself as an attorney but chose to throw that away is something DeLaney regrets. He said this shows more attention is needed in the attorney-screening process because he learned during trial how Mendenhall had taken a deep interest in legal research during law school about his father’s case, and how the prosecutors presented a case showing extensive preparation and calculation leading to the attack.

“I had no idea, and you have to wonder if that’s why he went to law school,” DeLaney said. “Just like police, we have to be careful who we let into our ranks. This whole thing damages our legal profession and sets us back.”

Linda Loepker, executive director of the Board of Law Examiners, said that second-guessing the system in such an unfortunate situation is only natural. But one case such as this doesn’t signal anything is being done incorrectly.

Indiana is one of only a few states nationally that requires in-person interviews with each applicant rather than just a paper review, and the BLE does criminal checks and looks at personal histories and reference letters, Loepker said.

“That presumes that we aren’t doing a good job, and I believe we do a great job in screening applicants,” she said. “It’s easy to have a gut reaction when something like this happens, and it causes our board members to take notice, but that doesn’t mean we will or have to do a better job.” •

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

ADVERTISEMENT