Justice wants attorney suspended longer

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.