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Justices order refunds in estate planning UPL case

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The Indiana Supreme Court is shaking its proverbial finger at a company it found had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, making it clear that the court’s orders must be followed or non-compliant litigants will be sanctioned.

In a two-page order  released Tuesday afternoon, the justices ordered that the Indianapolis-based estate planning services company United Financial Systems follow through with refunding money to those victimized by what has been determined to be the company’s unauthorized practice of law. This is the latest in the three-year-old case of State of Indiana, Ex. Rel. Indiana State Bar Association v. United Financial Systems Corp., No. 84S00-0810-MS-551.

In an April 14 ruling, the justices said that United Financial Systems should have known what it was doing was UPL, and as a result the Indiana State Bar Association was entitled to certain statutory attorney fees. The court ordered that disgorgement of fees the company received from its UPL should be returned. It ordered the company to notify all of its Indiana estate plan customers going back to 1995 about the decision, as well as those it retained since a related 2006 decision who might also be entitled to a refund.

But the company refused to pay those refunds, taking the position that the Supreme Court’s opinion doesn’t permit the issuance of refunds until the trial-level commissioner issues a restitutionary order.

“This reading of our opinion is incorrect,” the new court order states. “Accordingly, UFSC is ORDERED within ten (10) days of the date of this order, to issue refunds on all claims made to date to UFSC by persons entitled to refunds. Additionally, UFSC is ORDERED, within ten (10) days of the date of this order, to show cause why it should not be ordered to pay interest at the statutory rate on all claims by persons entitled to a refund, effectively from the date the claim was presented to UFSC.”

An exact figure of refunds or claims isn’t outlined in the order or in court filings, and attorneys representing United Financial did not return messages from Indiana Lawyer for this story. But in the Supreme Court’s opinion in April, it provided context for the potential amount: from October 2006 through May 2009, the company’s Indiana business included 1,306 estate plans grossing more than $2.7 million. Nationally, 18.8 percent of UFSC’s total income was reported to have come from those estate planning services in this state.

Wabash attorney Larry Thrush, who is representing two clients with claims against United Financial, said he’s very pleased to see this order from the court. Both clients have claims totaling about $2,500 each, and the company has been telling him that it won’t issue refunds until a commissioner issues a final restitution order.

“This takes away their reasoning for refusing, and I imagine all the clients with claims will now be able to move ahead with getting back money this company took from those services,” he said.

Aside from the refund issue, the court’s order also orders both United Financial and the ISBA to submit new briefs relating to approximately $19,500 in attorneys fees that are at dispute in the case.

Since the company’s attempt to further appeal this case failed when the Supreme Court of the United States denied to accept it in October, the matter now proceeds at the local level once a new commissioner is chosen to take over the case. Originally, the Supreme Court appointed Senior Judge Bruce Embrey from Miami Superior Court as commissioner on this case, and he handled the proceedings and issued a report last year with 266 findings. But he was recently elected county prosecutor and begins Jan. 1, and as a result he’s been removed from the case. The justices have not yet appointed a successor to handle the restitution and other ongoing issues in the case.
 

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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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