Lawyers get firm in trouble

June 10, 2009
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Do you remember back in school when a couple students in class would act up and the teacher would punish the entire class to make a point that type of behavior isn’t allowed? That’s pretty much what happened Friday to Bose McKinney & Evans when U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney sanctioned the firm for the actions of a few of its attorneys and staff.

The sanctions stemmed from discovery issues in a drawn-out lawsuit in which Bose represented a company in Evansville that denied using certain chemicals on site. Turns out, the attorneys on the case did learn through evidence and deposition testimony the chemicals were used, but instead of encouraging their client to come clean, they just pressed ahead like they didn’t know the chemicals were used. Read more about the sanctions here.

Judge McKinney described the attorneys as “chameleons” who helped their client to evade the truth.

Sanctioning an entire firm for conduct violating the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is unusual, he noted in the order, but necessary because the firm should be held accountable because three partners had knowledge of its client’s “apparent disregard” for discovery rules, and the firm failed to properly supervise an associate and paralegal who had knowledge of adverse facts. The two principal litigators in the case are no longer with the firm, according to a statement from Bose.

The 66-page order is a humdinger filled with discovery violations and examples of attorneys not following the rules and basically turning a blind eye or passing the buck on responsibility.

What do you think about the sanctions? Is it surprising or appropriate given the conduct of the client and attorneys?
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  • Someone once told me that
  • I commend the judge for sanctioning these attorneys. This is so shameful. I\'d fire these attorneys.
  • This story is a perfect example of what can happen when an attorney fails to realize that his first duty is to uphold the law. Attorneys can become too zealous in representing clients, and the result is often a blurring of the line between attorneys and clients.

    As to the judge calling an entire firm into question over the actions of a few attorneys, often the type of activity engaged in by these attorneys can only happen where the senior members of the firm or legal office have lost sight of the proper role for attorneys within the office.
  • So are you saying that the firm has no responsibility for the actions of its partners, who were in court as members of that firm? Interesting suggestion. I\'ll bet the managing partner was quite pleased at the fees the FIRM was earning on this litigation.
  • Do you remember back in school when a couple students in class would act up and the teacher would punish the entire class to make a point that type of behavior isn’t allowed? -- This is not an apt comparison. Did four of the students have a solemn agreement to act together, one for all and all for one? (In grade school, this would have been a gang, not a firm.) Did the teacher then punish the whole gang when one acted up?

    The industrialization of the practice of law and corresponding dominance of mega-firms has allowed the theoretical basis for collective practice to become obscured. Shared responsibility for the representation of a client must be truly and wholly shared, for all purposes, or it is a sham creating both pitfalls for the unwary and cover for the unscrupulous.
  • Well stated Brian Stanley.
  • ...and the teacher would punish the entire class. Curious that you would lead with a manifestly false analogy. The teacher has engaged in collective punishment, something understood in the adult world as unlawful if not a war crime (except when perpetrated by the US government and Israel -- but I digress). A law firm is a partnership, in which the partners act as agents for each other, agree in advance to be legally responsible for each other\'s actions, and share profits and losses. Holding such an entity liable as opposed to individual partners may raise some policy issues, but they have nothing to do with collective punishment.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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