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Sanctioned firm settles on legal fees

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An Indianapolis law firm sanctioned for the conduct of some of its attorneys in an environmental cleanup case won't appeal the sanction and has agreed to pick up some of the opposing counsel's legal tab as part of a settlement agreement.

With a settlement reached late Friday, Bose McKinney & Evans has agreed to pay an unspecified amount of legal fees as a result of the June 5 order from U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney, who determined the firm should be sanctioned for essentially helping its client abuse the discovery process, failing to correct misleading or false statements made by the client, and not properly turning over to the court or opposing counsel key documents relating to the case.

Notice of a settlement was filed with the court on Friday, saying the parties, "resolved the issues between them, including the relief the Court granted to 1100 West as against BME."

In a statement from managing partner Kendall C. Crook, he says the firm is pleased with being able to resolve its differences in a "mutually satisfactory manner," but doesn't delve into specifics of the agreement reached in 1100 West LLC v. Red Spot Paint & Varnish Co., 1:05-CV-1670.

The case involves a business's 7-acre site in the Evansville area that it claims was heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals from the nearby Red Spot property. The plaintiff asked the judge to order the removal of all the chemicals near its property and for the company to stop discharging hazardous and solid waste from its nearby property, and a central issue in the case was whether particular chemicals were used at the site. Red Spot denied that they were stored or used there, but Judge McKinney determined otherwise based on discovery initially withheld from the court and opposing counsel.

Specifically, the judge's order focused on former Bose attorneys Richard VanRheenen and Amy Cueller, who firm leaders asked to leave late last year because of this case. A declaration submitted by Crook shows that VanRheenen voluntarily resigned his partnership effective Jan. 1, 2009, and remained on a limited contract attorney basis until Feb. 20 to transition his practice and clients to a new firm; Cueller declined to resign and was fired Jan. 6.

Others mentioned include partner Kathleen Lucas, who remains at the firm; former associate Matthew Klein and former partner Jan Nelson, both of whom are no longer listed on the firm's Web site; and an unnamed paralegal who assisted on the case.

Aside from the firm sanctions, Judge McKinney entered a default judgment against Red Spot and determined the company had forfeited the right to have these issues determined on the merits.

In his 66-page order, Judge McKinney wrote that 1100 West was entitled to attorneys' fees and costs from all discovery dating back to May 23, 2006, and for all the costs associated with the sanctions' motions and hearings. Bose was ordered to pay half those costs, splitting the tab with Red Spot.

While details of the settlement are confidential, the costs are expected to run into the millions. Firm spokesman Roger Harvey, senior vice president of Bose Public Affairs Group, declined to discuss details but said this settlement resolves all issues so there will be no appeal by the firm.

"We won't let this define us," he said. "The true test of an organization is its ability to recover from an unfortunate situation like this, and we're certainly committed to doing that."

Court documents show that Red Spot has argued that Bose McKinney & Evans collected almost $3 million in legal fees on this case and that the firm threw its former client "under the bus" in an effort to distract the court from its own misconduct, while the firm says that Red Spot's continued evasion of the truth shows that the client was the problem, not the attorneys.

Lead counsel for 1100 West, Tom Barnard with Taft Stettinius & Hollister, said that this settlement doesn't end the case against Red Spot, which has new counsel after Bose McKinney & Evans stepped down from that role earlier this year. The company is now represented by attorneys at Indianapolis-based Ice Miller and two out-of-state firms, Michigan's Butzel Long and Chicago's Foley & Lardner.

Barnard says that Judge McKinney's order allows 1100 West to move forward with a remediation plan and determine what the cost will be for cleanup. That proposed plan is due Aug. 4, and a show cause hearing is set for Nov. 4.

He declined to discuss specifics of the settlement or comment on sanctions against the entire firm - something that plaintiffs did not request from the judge in this case. But he said he hopes the default judgment and fees sanction against Red Spot will move the case along.

"This has been a remarkably frustrating process for me as a trial lawyer, and it was unfortunate for us to have to seek sanctions," he said. "But sometimes those are the only mechanisms left to obtain justice."

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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