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Magistrate denies any pre-bench wrongdoing

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A newly appointed federal magistrate in Indianapolis denies any misconduct or knowledge of wrongdoing that a judge says happened during a clean air trial last spring prior to her taking the bench.

The misconduct is alleged to have happened when she was an attorney representing Duke Energy on claims it failed to meet environmental standards at some of its power plants. Magistrate Debra McVicker Lynch filed a declaration Friday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, defending her conduct as an attorney when she represented Duke Energy.

The two-page document comes in U.S., et al. v. Cinergy Corp, et al., 1:99, CV-1693, involving a nine-year-old case that culminated with a trial and jury verdict in May 2008. Jurors had found Cinergy - bought by Duke in 2006 - violated federal rules at its Wabash plant in Terre Haute, but cleared the company regarding modifications made at four other plants in Indiana and Ohio. Following that verdict, attorneys discovered a previously undisclosed consulting agreement with a witness that raised questions about the company's central themes at trial. Duke attorneys had presented arguments about the plaintiffs' "hired experts" versus the defense "engineer" witnesses, who had differing views on what kind of repair and modernization projects may have been happening at the power plants.

In a mid-December order, Judge McKinney found that Duke didn't disclose that it had a consulting agreement with witness Robert Batdorf, and had misrepresented his relationship with the company - whether he was a retired, unpaid former employee or a paid consultant.

The judge ordered a new trial for Duke because attorneys tainted the liability phase of the litigation. He is threatening to suspend counsel for Duke from practicing in the federal court, turning to a rarely used disciplinary power the court has. Local counsel is from Taft Stettinius & Hollister, which acquired Indianapolis firm Sommer Barnard last year. It's unclear whether any of the Taft attorneys in Indianapolis were involved in the representations made to the jury about the witness, but those counsel of record are Scott Alexander, Robert Clark, John Papageorge - and Lynch, who withdrew in October just before accepting her judicial post.

The company's principal counsel in the case is with the Washington, D.C., office of Sidley Austin. Indianapolis firm Barnes & Thornburg also recently entered an appearance in the case, representing Duke.

Judge McKinney demanded in December that all of Duke's counsel in this case as of May 5, 2008, show cause why they should not be suspended immediately from practice before the court and ordered to pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees. He wants to know what each knew about the status of the consulting agreement Duke had with the witness, and when that information was known. The deadline was today.

In her response, Magistrate Lynch wrote she didn't have any knowledge of the consulting agreement between Cinergy and Batdorf described in Judge McKinney's order before or during the trial, or while she was counsel of record for the company. She wrote that she became "generally aware" that a motion for a new trial after her withdrawal was based on an undisclosed matter, but she didn't find out about it in full until reading Judge McKinney's order. She also pointed out that her involvement in the trial and the two months beforehand was limited to about two-tenths of a billable hour, not including compiling or providing discovery responses, witness preparation, or trial strategy. Most of her tasks involved coordinating with the court and co-counsel regarding logical arrangements for various proceedings, she wrote.

"I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct," her declaration ends, supplementing her request that the court fully discharge without any further action the show cause order as directed to her.

In a separate 38-page response filed Friday afternoon for the Duke/Cinergy counsel, Barnes & Thornburg attorneys John Maley and Larry Mackey disputed the court's findings of misconduct and wrote that counsel hadn't mislead anyone in the case. The brief also includes references from several prominent Indianapolis area attorneys who've reviewed the issues and determined they are legal, ethical, and reasonable.

"Cinergy and its counsel respectfully request that this court find no misconduct occurred and take no disciplinary action against Cinergy or its counsel, allow its counsel to continue practice before this Court, and award no fees to Plaintiffs."

A 9 a.m. hearing is set for Tuesday in Judge McKinney's courtroom. Look for the Jan. 21-Feb. 3, 2009, issue of Indiana Lawyer for more coverage.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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