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Justices disagree on prosecutor's public reprimand

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The Indiana Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a lawyer for what happened to his license when he left private practice to become a full-time prosecutor in northwest Indiana, but the disciplinary action has split the state’s justices on whether a more severe punishment was warranted.

Justices ruled Sept. 30 in the disciplinary action of In the Matter of James E. Barce, No. 04S00-0904-DI-139, involving Kentland attorney James E. Barce who served as Newton County’s part-time prosecutor for a decade before being elected full-time in 2005. When he made the switch to full-time and was required to close his private practice, Barce signed an affidavit placing his law license on inactive status, which meant he couldn’t practice law. He signed similar documents in subsequent years, and as a result he paid a reduced annual registration fee.

But in February 2009, an opposing defense attorney on a case Barce was prosecuting pointed out the license inactivity and that prompted him to re-activate his status and self-report what appeared to be a professional conduct violation to the Disciplinary Commission. Barce offered to pay the difference between the reduced fees and he paid the full active status fees for those years he was on inactive status.

The Disciplinary Commission filed charges and a hearing officer found no aggravating factors, but determined a public reprimand was appropriate. Though the Disciplinary Commission pursued a suspension for this “serial violation,” the hearing officer determined Barce’s misconduct was negligent rather than willful and that he’d cooperated, showed remorse, kept up with his CLE requirements, and had a good reputation in the legal community.

In deciding on the punishment, Justices Brent Dickson, Frank Sullivan, and Theodore Boehm agreed to accept the public reprimand recommendation on grounds that Barce violated Ind. Prof. Cond. R. 5.5(a) and 8.4(d).

But Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard dissented in a separate opinion and Justice Robert Rucker joined on grounds that a more severe penalty was warranted in this case.

“As our Disciplinary Commission argues, if a defendant had argued he was not guilty of speeding because he had not bothered to read the speed limit posted on the sign, it is doubtful the Respondent would have found that to be a persuasive argument,” the chief justice wrote.

Chief Justice Shepard wrote that once Barce signed an affidavit under oath declaring he was not engaged in the practice of law, the clerk sent him a card that told him “rather directly that he was an Indiana attorney with an Indiana license, ‘but may not use that license as the basis for engaging in the practice of law.’” But he still practiced law regularly and prosecuted thousands of criminal and civil cases during a four-year period until “he was exposed in the minutes just before a jury trial was to commence,” the chief justice pointed out.

Relying on precedent, Chief Justice Shepard wrote that the court has treated similar situations of gross neglect with a substantial suspension – including the Matter of Baars, 542 N.E.2d 558 (Ind. 1989), in which a lawyer was suspended for 24 months for practicing law for 7 years while swearing that he was not.

“That seems pretty stiff in retrospect, but giving this Respondent a mere reprimand tells everyone the Supreme Court thinks this behavior is a pretty minor matter,” Chief Justice Shepard wrote. “The Commission obviously thinks practicing law without a license is important, and so do I. The Court should suspend Barce for thirty days, and his reinstatement should be conditioned on his paying both the back registration fees and reimbursing the costs of convening the jury that had to be sent home when his violation was brought to light.”

Barce could not be reached today at the number listed with the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, and his attorney Kevin McGoff with Bingham McHale in Indianapolis couldn’t be immediately reached by IL deadline for this story.

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  1. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

  2. Who gives a rats behind about all the fluffy ranking nonsense. What students having to pay off debt need to know is that all schools aren't created equal and students from many schools don't have a snowball's chance of getting a decent paying job straight out of law school. Their lowly ranked lawschool won't tell them that though. When schools start honestly (accurately) reporting *those numbers, things will get interesting real quick, and the looks on student's faces will be priceless!

  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

  4. Unfortunately, the court doesn't understand the difference between ebidta and adjusted ebidta as they clearly got the ruling wrong based on their misunderstanding

  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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