ILNews

Report issued in UPL claim on trust mill case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has never determined whether the money spent during the prosecution of an Unauthorized Practice of Law claim fits into the "costs and expenses incurred by such a hearing" category, which means that a losing party pays under Administrative Disciplinary Rule 24.

Justices may now have that chance as they consider whether an estate planning company engaged in unlawful legal work.

Presenting an issue of first impression, a special commissioner on Monday submitted an 88-page report to the state's highest court regarding a UPL claim brought by the ISBA last October in a trust mill case, State of Indiana, Ex Rel. Indiana State Bar Association v. United Financial Services, et al., No. 94S00-0810-MS-551.

ISBA initiated the action against estate planning service United Financial Systems in Indianapolis, accusing it of operating a trust mill that engaged in unauthorized practice of law and wrongly collecting more than $1 million from at least five families throughout the state. A total of five counts are made in ISBA's action - one for each person or couple who bought an estate-planning package with United Financial.

In March, Senior Judge Bruce Embrey from Miami Superior Court was brought on as a special commissioner to consider the facts in this case. He held an out-of-court, two-day trial in late May and has now given his findings to the state's justices to determine whether any UPL occurred.

As part of his 266 findings of fact and conclusions of law, Judge Embrey noted that between October 2006 and March 29, 2009, about 0.09 percent of United Financial's total income from all national operations came from estate planning assistance in Indiana; 18.8 percent of the fee income generated nationally came from Indiana estate planning services.

Aside from requests that United Financial permanently stop any UPL in Indiana, ISBA also asks that the Supreme Court order a disgorgement of fees and reimbursement of money collected by the company to those people affected.

Judge Embrey notes that ISBA has never settled a UPL case in exchange for money from an individual or corporation accused of violating the state provisions, and that no costs or fees have been received by ISBA in the course of processing these cases.

In the instant case, ISBA paid about $25,882 to various vendors for copies and transcripts, and paid an attorney who testified in rebuttal to the company's evidence. ISBA also paid $11,093 to Indianapolis law firm Bingham McHale for legal counsel on this case, copies, long-distance phone calls, and other routine office expenses. The report details nearly $36,975 in expenses.

However, Judge Embrey points out that the terms "costs and expenses incurred by such a hearing" in the context of Administrative Disciplinary Rule 24, which are to be paid by the losing party, have not been defined by the court.

"Including the cost to the ISBA of engaging counsel to prosecute a UPL claim pursuant to Rule 24 is a matter of first impression," he wrote.

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