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Justice wants attorney suspended longer

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The Indiana Supreme Court couldn’t agree on the appropriate sanction for an attorney who engaged in an improper ex parte communication with a judge, leaving one justice to argue for at least a 90-day suspension.

The justices voted 4-1 to suspend Jane G. Cotton for 30 days with automatic reinstatement. The justices found that she violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 3.5(b) by engaging in misconduct by having an improper ex parte communication with a judge and Rule 8.4(d) by engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Cotton began representing a wife in her protection order case and a divorce case. Before Cotton became the wife’s attorney, the wife filed a petition for a protection order in which she wrote several address that the husband should stay away from. One of those addresses was for the parties’ “South Central Way Property.” Magistrate Judge Stephen D. Clase crossed out all the hand-written addresses and initialed the changes to indicate they were intentional.

The South Central property was sold at a tax sale and the husband’s attorney petitioned for and was granted a motion to allow him to remove his personal property so it wouldn’t be lost to the tax sale purchaser. This happened about the time Cotton started representing the wife. She went to the courthouse to talk to the magistrate about the order of protection with the crossed-out addresses, but the only one available was Judge Thomas Clem. She spoke with him off the record, said the South Central property had been left off inadvertently and the judge wrote that address on a photocopy of the order for protection. He didn’t sign or initial it; Cotton later took the court’s seal and impressed it on the order.

Cotton never informed the husband or his attorney of this change. When the husband went to the property to get his belongings, the wife called the police and he was forced to spend more than $1,000 petitioning for a second motion to remove his property.

The hearing officer found no facts in aggravation and found the following facts in mitigation: Cotton doesn’t have a prior record of discipline; her client’s mental illness may have contributed to a communication of inaccurate or incomplete facts to her; and Cotton was motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of her client. Cotton tendered the $1,275 to the commission for payment of restitution to the husband, which the justices order be released to the husband.

“The accuracy of documents utilized by a tribunal in a proceeding is of the utmost importance to the administration of justice, and fraudulent alteration of such documents by an officer of the court is therefore serious misconduct,” states the per curiam opinion In the Matter of Jane G. Cotton, No. 48S00-0910-DI-497.

Justice Frank Sullivan wanted a more severe sanction, arguing based on previous disciplinary actions of a similar nature, Cotton should have been suspended for at least 90 days.

Cotton’s suspension is effective Feb. 7, 2011.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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