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Lawyer reprimanded for enforcing associate’s separation agreement

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A Clark County attorney was reprimanded Tuesday by the Indiana Supreme Court over terms of a separation agreement he enforced against an associate who left the firm.

“The Court concludes that Respondent violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 5.6(a) by making an employment agreement that restricted the rights of a lawyer to practice after termination of the employment relationship,” reads the per curiam opinion in In the Matter of: Karl N. Truman, 10S00-1401-DI-55. “For Respondent's professional misconduct, the Court imposes a public reprimand.”

According to the court, the agreement “provided that only Respondent could notify clients that Associate was leaving, prohibited Associate from soliciting and notifying clients that he was leaving, and prohibited Associate from soliciting and contacting clients after he left. The Separation Agreement also included provisions for dividing fees if Associate left the firm that were structured to create a strong financial disincentive to prevent Associate from continuing to represent clients he had represented while employed by the firm.”

The associate left the firm after six years in 2012, and the opinion notes that he contacted clients, informed them of his departure, and told them they could choose to be represented by him or Truman. Later, Truman filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Commission against his former associate. That matter was settled through mediation.

“Immediately after the Commission began its investigation in this matter, Respondent discontinued his use of the Separation Agreement, and he has not enforced any similar provisions against any other former associates,” the opinion notes.

Parties stipulated that Truman also violated Rule 1.4(b), failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit clients to make informed decisions regarding representation.

In a footnote, the court explained, “Without addressing the exact parameters of this rule, the Court accepts the parties’ stipulation that Respondent violated this rule for the purposes of resolving this case.”
 

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