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U.S. judge sanctions Indianapolis law firm

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2009
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A federal judge has sanctioned an Indianapolis law firm that employed a few attorneys he says helped abuse the discovery process, failed to correct misleading or false statements made by its client, and didn't properly turn over to the court or opposing counsel key documents relating to an environmental contamination case out of Southern Indiana. In a 66-page order issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney in the Southern District of Indiana determined that Bose McKinney & Evans should be sanctioned for its attorneys' actions that "skated the edge of its responsibility," and for acting like "a chameleon" in becoming indistinguishable from its client and allowing that client to evade the truth. "The Court notes that it may be unusual to sanction a law firm for conduct that violates the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure," the judge wrote. "However, in this case, where three partners of the firm had knowledge of its client's apparent disregard for those rules and failed to properly supervise an associate and paralegal who had knowledge of adverse facts that remained undisclosed to the opposing party, the Court can only conclude that the firm must be held accountable under its inherent authority to deter such conduct in the future." Specifically, the judge's order focuses 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 to the court by Bose Managing Partner Kendall 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. In a statement issued to Indiana Lawyer today, Crook wrote, "This remains a pending matter and we intend to work diligently to seek an appropriate resolution. We have taken this matter extremely seriously and took prompt action to address the issues described in the Court order. The two principal litigators involved in this case are no longer associated with the firm." The case, 1100 West LLC v. Red Spot Paint & Varnish Co., No. 1:05-CV-1670, involves a business's 7-acre site in the Evansville area that 1100 West claims was heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals from the nearby Red Spot property. After filing a state court suit in 2003 about the alleged contamination, 1100 West took the case to federal court in 2005 and sought injunctive relief under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. 1100 West asked the judge to order the removal of all the chemicals near its property and for the company to stop discharging any of that hazardous and solid waste from its nearby property. A central issue in the case was whether particular chemicals were used at the site, and both sides debated during discovery whether those chemicals were ever stored or used at the Red Spot site. Former Red Spot president and board chairman, Charles Storms, and environmental manager Susan Henry, testified throughout the litigation that the company hadn't used or stored specific chemicals. But discovery withheld from the court and opposing counsel showed otherwise, Judge McKinney wrote, and he noted that the company continued pressing that claim up to October 2008 when those previously withheld documents were discovered. Lucas began as Red Spot's counsel in 2003 to enroll its property in the voluntary remediation program. Lucas later brought in VanRheenen as the primary litigator before Cueller joined the case, according to the order, and the others assisted throughout the years. In October 2008, attorneys for 1100 West filed a motion for sanctions and after a two-day hearing on May 6 and 7, 2009, the judge issued his decision late last week. He found the conduct goes back to at least the summer of 2006, and that both Henry and Storms had on several occasions misrepresented facts. As a result, 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. "But, BME, through both Cueller and VanRhennen and, to a lesser extent, Lucas, had opportunities to steer Red Spot, particularly Henry and Storms, on a different path and it never did," the judge wrote. "If all BME had was one individual who wished to ignore a small amount of information, it would be one thing. In this case, however, the evidence that Red Spot had used (those chemicals) was too persuasive for BME to continue to ignore." Judge McKinney later wrote, "Being a zealous lawyer does not mean zealously believing your client in light of evidence to the contrary." The attorneys for 1100 West have until Aug. 4 to submit a proposed remedial plan for its property, and a show cause hearing is set for Nov. 4 to allow Red Spot to respond to the appropriateness of that plan. Judge McKinney also ordered that 1100 West is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs from all discovery dating back to May 23, 2006, and for the fees and costs associated with the sanctions' motions and hearings. A report is due by mid-July on those costs, and Judge McKinney has ordered that Red Spot and Bose McKinney shall each pay one-half of those determined costs.

Let us know what you think about the sanctions at our blog, First Impressions.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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