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Justices suspend attorney for collecting 'exploitive fee'

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The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended an Indianapolis attorney after finding he engaged in attorney misconduct by collecting a “clearly unreasonable and exploitive fee” from a vulnerable client.

Everett E. Powell II had only been admitted to the bar for a few months in 2004 when T.G. and her boyfriend J.S. consulted him about getting access to funds in a trust. T.G. had been represented by Mark E. Ross in a settlement of a personal injury action. The trust was created to hold the $42,500 from the settlement in order to preserve T.G.’s eligibility for public assistance and prevent depletion of funds by T.G. or those who may not be acting in her best interest, like J.S. T.G. had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and said she was in an abusive and controlling relationship with J.S.

Ross declined to give T.G. access to the trust account, so T.G. went to Powell. Because she didn’t have money to pay a fee upfront, she agreed to a contingent fee of one-third of whatever was in the trust. Powell misrepresented to Ross that he was going to take over as trustee when in fact he intended to dissolve the trust. As soon as he became successor trustee, he deposited a check that was intended to pay for medical bills into the trust, and Powell paid himself $14,815.55 as his fee, and gave T.G. nearly $30,000. The remaining funds remained in the account until bank fees depleted them.

In In the Matter of Everett E. Powell, II, No. 49S00-0910-DI-426, the high court found Powell violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(a) by collecting the unreasonable fee. While he may have reasonably believed in the beginning that removing Ross as trustee could be contested or how much money was in the account, the case quickly proved to be relatively conflict-free as Ross agreed to resign and he then knew how much money was in the account.

Powell claimed that his fee could be justified by “red flags” raised by a client complaining about a former attorney because that client could then treat him the same way and he could have faced a legal action for breach of trust.

“Even if ‘red flags’ that a client may be difficult to deal with could justify a higher fee than would be reasonable otherwise, we reject any suggestion that an attorney's concern that he may be committing legal malpractice in representing a client justifies charging the client a higher fee,” states the per curiam opinion. “We do not suggest that a contingent fee must be reduced every time a case turns out to be easier or more lucrative than contemplated by the parties at the outset. But collection of a fee under the original agreement is unreasonable when it gives the attorney an unconscionable windfall under the totality of the circumstances.”

The justices found Powell wasn’t remorseful, made contradictory and evasive assertions during the proceedings, didn’t fully cooperate with the Disciplinary Commission’s investigation, knew his client was vulnerable, made misrepresentations to Ross, and never made restitution. Powell has no disciplinary history and he was a newly admitted attorney at the time of the misconduct.

After looking at previous disciplinary actions involving fee violations, the justices imposed a 120-day suspension without automatic reinstatement, beginning Nov. 11.

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  • 3rd Para Typo
    Good coverage - typo shifts "T.G." to "T.S." at beginning of third paragraph.

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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

  2. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. AT the time the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was enacted all major pharmaceutical companies in the US sold marijuana products. 11 Presidents of the US have smoked marijuana. Smoking it does not increase the likelihood that you will get lung cancer. There are numerous reports of canabis oil killing many kinds of incurable cancer. (See Rick Simpson's Oil on the internet or facebook).

  3. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Far too many people are sentenced for far too many years in prison. Many of the federal prisoners are sentenced for marijuana violations. Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

  4. My daughter was married less than a week and her new hubbys picture was on tv for drugs and now I havent't seen my granddaughters since st patricks day. when my daughter left her marriage from her childrens Father she lived with me with my grand daughters and that was ok but I called her on the new hubby who is in jail and said didn't want this around my grandkids not unreasonable request and I get shut out for her mistake

  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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