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Justices suspend Logansport lawyer for 1 year

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The Indiana Supreme Court suspended a Logansport attorney for one year because he routinely allowed his secretary to prepare and sign his name on bankruptcy petitions and other court documents, including one petition that she mistakenly filed in the wrong District.

An order published Nov. 10 split the court on the disciplinary action against Cass County attorney James E. Chovanec, who has been practicing law since 1975.

Chovanec, who represented debtors in bankruptcy matters, had his secretary sign his name despite Bankruptcy Rule 9011(a) and (b) that requires an attorney of record to sign most court documents and to make certain certifications about the fillings. At one point, his secretary filed a petition in the Northern District of Indiana rather than the Southern District, and she then signed and filed a motion to dismiss. The bankruptcy judge set a motion hearing to consider the dismissal, but Chovanec failed to appear at that proceeding or two subsequent hearings to show cause why he shouldn’t be held in contempt.

In September 2005, the judge found Chovanec in contempt and fined him $1,000, prohibiting him from filing any more bankruptcies in the Northern District until he petitioned for restatement before the chief judge. The following day, Chovanec filed 10 more bankruptcy petitions in that District and the judge issued another show cause hearing. Chovanec obtained limited reinstatement prior to the scheduled hearing, but the lawyer failed to appear and the bankruptcy judge again found Chovanec in contempt and prohibited him from representing anyone in the Northern District until he paid a $500 fine and successfully petitioned for reinstatement.

The disciplinary action results from violation of four Indiana Professional Conduct Rules: 3.3(a) knowingly making false statements to a tribunal; 3.4(c) knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal; 5.3(b) failure to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of a nonlawyer employee over whom the lawyer has direct supervisory authority is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and 5.3(c) ordering or ratifying the misconduct of nonlawyer assistants or failing to take reasonable remedial action with respect to the misconduct of nonlawyer assistants under the lawyer's supervision.

Both sides reached a conditional agreement for discipline, finding that Chovanec cooperated with the disciplinary process and that this case was “precipitated primarily by Respondent’s lack of training and supervision of his staff rather than an intentional plan to deceive the court.” But in aggravation, the parties looked to Chovanec’s past two disciplinary matters from 1994 and 1998, when he received a 30-day suspension and 12-month suspension respectively.

A three-justice majority determined the appropriate sanction in this action is a one-year suspension without automatic reinstatement, beginning Dec. 16, 2011.

Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker agreed with the 12-month suspension, while Justice Frank Sullivan wrote that he concurred only because of the conditional agreement. If not for that submitted disciplinary action, he would have voted for more severe sanction. Chief Justice Randall Shepard and Justice Steven David dissented, writing that they believe the agreed discipline is insufficient for the misconduct admitted.

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  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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