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Justices suspend attorney for 18 months

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Three Indiana justices decided that an attorney deserved an 18-month suspension for violating four rules of Professional Conduct, including charging an unreasonable fee. Justice Steven David didn’t participate in the case and Justice Robert Rucker believed the attorney only violated three of the rules and deserved a shorter suspension.

In In the Matter of: Lawrence T. Newman, No. 49S00-0907-DI-331, Lawrence Newman was retained by M.L. to help represent her in disputes over the operation of a closely held corporation left by her father in his estate. The agreement between M.L. and Newman said Newman would be paid $195 an hour, payable upon receipt of M.L.’s distribution from the estate, plus 25 percent of M.L.’s distribution.

Just a few weeks later, M.L. sent a letter asking Newman to stop all work, and she later terminated his employment and asked for a statement of the work he had done. Newman filed a notice of intent to hold an attorney’s lien on M.L.’s distrubtion from the estate for his hourly fee plus 25 percent of the distribution of the estate. It took more than three years for M.L. to receive her file, which she got after she was ordered to pay Newman nearly $8,500 for the work he had done on her case.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Brent Dickson and Frank Sullivan agreed with the Disciplinary Commission that Newman violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.4(a)(4), 1.5(a), 1.16(a)(3), and 1.16(d) for failing to comply with M.L.’s reasonable requests for an accounting of the hours he worked prior to being discharged, by charging an unreasonable fee, by failing to withdraw from representation promptly after being discharged, and by failing to return M.L.’s file after its retention was no longer necessary to secure payment of his fee.

“While we do not adopt the Commission's assertion that a contingent fee agreement is per se unethical whenever there is no risk of total non-recovery, we conclude that the evidence supports a conclusion that the contingent fee agreement under the circumstances of this particular case was unreasonable,” the per curiam opinion states.

Justice Rucker dissented on this matter, finding there to be insufficient evidence to support a violation of Rule 1.5(a) – charging or collecting an unreasonable fee – and that the 18-month suspension imposed is based in part on a violation not charged by the commission. He pointed out that the hearing officer didn’t make findings or conclusions that Newman may have violated the rule by charging or collecting an unreasonable fee, and the commission never filed charges against him alleging a violation of this provision of the rule. The hearing officer claimed Newman violated this rule by “negotiating and entering into a contingency fee agreement when [M.L.] faced no risk of non-recovery” in the estate matter.  

“To conclude that ‘Respondent violated Rule 1.5(a) by charging an unreasonable fee’ decides a question outside the scope of our review and violates the Respondent’s right to fundamental due process,” he wrote. Rucker would impose a 90-day suspension for the remaining three violations.

Newman's suspension begins Jan. 31.

 

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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