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Lawyer disbarred for client altercation, numerous violations

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A criminal defense lawyer accused of instigating a physical altercation with a former client at the City-County Building in Indianapolis and committing numerous rules violations has been disbarred.

Steven B. Geller had to be restrained by guards after accosting a former client he believed owed him money at the courthouse in Indianapolis. He yelled at the ex-client, "I'll f***ing kill you!", according to the Indiana Supreme Court order of disbarment in In the Matter of: Steven B. Geller, 49S00-1106-DI-318.

"The Court concludes that (Geller) violated the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct by multiple acts of misconduct, including dishonesty to a court and to the (Disciplinary) Commission, improper ex parte communication with a judge, improper communication with a represented party, pervasive neglect of vulnerable clients, disorderly conduct in a judicial facility, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice," the 15-page per curiam order says.

Justices approved disbarment in a 4-1 decision. Justice Mark Massa concurred in part and dissented in part and would have imposed a three-year suspension without automatic reinstatement.

Geller had been suspended for one year in 2000 for threatening to reveal a client’s conviction for child molesting to fellow inmates in retaliation when the client threatened to file a grievance, the court noted, along with three financial violations.

“The Court notes [Geller’s] history of misconduct, his unsuccessful prior attempt at rehabilitation, his inability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his current misconduct (except admitting "losing it" in Count 1), and his confrontational attitude toward those involved in the disciplinary process,” the order reads.

“Of particular concern is (Geller’s) continued inability to manage his anger, his attempts to blame others, including his own clients, for his misconduct, and his dishonesty toward a court and the Commission. Under these circumstances, the Court concludes that disbarment is warranted.”

The court found Geller violated a dozen Rules of Professional Conduct. They are:

-- 1.3: Failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness;
-- 1.4(a)(3): Failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter;
-- 1.4(a)(4): Failure to comply promptly with a client's reasonable requests for information;
-- 1.4(b): Failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions;
-- 1.5(b): Failing to communicate the scope of the lawyer's representation and the basis or rate of the fee for which a client will be responsible;
-- 1.16(d): After the termination of representation, failure to protect a client's interests, failure to refund an unearned fee, and failure promptly to return to a client case file materials to which the client is entitled;
-- 3.3(a)(1): Knowingly making a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal;
-- 3.5(b): Engaging in an improper ex parte communication with a judge;
-- 4.2: Improperly communicating with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter;
-- 8.1(a): Knowingly making a false statement of material fact to the Disciplinary Commission in connection with a disciplinary matter;
-- 8.4(b): Committing a criminal act (disorderly conduct) that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer; and
-- 8.4(d): Engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Separately, Geller was criminally charged in March 2013 with five counts of Class D felony tax evasion for failing to file Indiana individual or business income tax returns for the years 2007 through 2011.

According to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, Geller is due in Marion Superior Criminal Court 25 for a pretrial conference on May 29. His trial date is currently set for June 10.

Geller was admitted to practice in 1989.

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