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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. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. I am one of Steele's victims and was taken for $6,000. I want my money back due to him doing nothing for me. I filed for divorce after a 16 year marriage and lost everything. My kids, my home, cars, money, pension. Every attorney I have talked to is not willing to help me. What can I do? I was told i can file a civil suit but you have to have all of Steelers info that I don't have. Of someone can please help me or tell me what info I need would be great.

  5. It would appear that news breaking on Drudge from the Hoosier state (link below) ties back to this Hoosier story from the beginning of the recent police disrespect period .... MCBA president Cassandra Bentley McNair issued the statement on behalf of the association Dec. 1. The association said it was “saddened and disappointed” by the decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown. “The MCBA does not believe this was a just outcome to this process, and is disheartened that the system we as lawyers are intended to uphold failed the African-American community in such a way,” the association stated. “This situation is not just about the death of Michael Brown, but the thousands of other African-Americans who are disproportionately targeted and killed by police officers.” http://www.thestarpress.com/story/news/local/2016/07/18/hate-cops-sign-prompts-controversy/87242664/

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