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Summary judgment affirmed in favor of attorney

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An attorney who withdrew as counsel for two related family-owned businesses did not make false and defamatory statements in explaining his withdrawal, the Indiana Court of Appeals held.

In James Gagan, Fred Wittlinger, Jack Allen and Eugene Deutsch v. C. Joseph Yast, No. 45A05-1107-CT-377, James Gagan had claimed that C. Joseph Yast made defamatory statements in a conversation with Gagan’s son, Jamie. Yast is an attorney and was close friends with the Gagan family for nearly 30 years. Yast represented the Gagans and their various businesses in numerous lawsuits during a 20-year period. In 2006, Gagan, founder of DirectBuy, offered Yast a position as the company’s vice president and general counsel, and Yast accepted. Yast’s employment contract allowed him to work on outside projects, and Yast represented Jamie Gagan’s company ThinkTank in various litigation matters.

In 2007, Gagan and the minority shareholders in DirectBuy sold the company to Trivest, a holding company, for $550 million. Gagan and the other shareholders had taken $17 million in member merchandise money as a dividend, and Trivest challenged that withdrawal under the merger. DirectBuy’s highest ranking officers contacted Gagan to explain their concerns, believing the withdrawal was inconsistent with the company’s core values.

When Trivest and Gagan and the other sellers were unable to reach an agreement, Yast withdrew his appearance for Gagan in federal litigation, believing that representing Gagan presented a conflict of interest. Yast also determined that his conflict with Gagan created a conflict of interest in continuing to represent ThinkTank. Yast called Jamie to explain why he was withdrawing from ThinkTank litigation.

Two days later, Jamie filed a disciplinary grievance against Yast, challenging the manner in which Yast withdrew his representation. Jamie argued that Yast’s disclosure of his conflict of interest in their telephone call on April 23, 2008, was inappropriate because Yast’s purpose was to leverage his withdrawal to force Gagan to capitulate in his dispute with Trivest. The Disciplinary Commission determined that Jamie’s grievance did not raise a substantial question of misconduct and dismissed the matter on April 1, 2010.

In its opinion, the COA held that Gagan and the other sellers set forth no designated evidence demonstrating that they have suffered any reputational harm or actual damage from Yast’s statements to Jamie during the telephone call and that no evidence supported the claim that Yast abused his qualified common interest privilege. The COA concluded that the trial court properly granted Yast’s motion for summary judgment on this basis.

 

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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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