The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended a northwest Indiana attorney for helping a litigant whose cases he’d presided over more than a decade ago when he was a Jasper Superior judge.
Earlier this week, the state’s highest court issued a 30-day suspension with automatic reinstatement for Rensselaer lawyer Robert V. Monfort, who had served on the Jasper Superior 2 bench from 1994 until that court closed in 2000. This disciplinary action stems from two criminal drunk driving cases Monfort handled in 1998 for a defendant identified as T.W., in which the judge had convicted and sentenced the man to 365 days behind bars.
In 2009, almost a decade after the Superior court’s closure and Monfort had entered private practice, T.W. contacted the former judge to explore the possibility of having those past convictions vacated. Monfort met with the local prosecutor and when the matter later went to court, T.W. filed a petition that said he was acting pro se. But at a hearing on the petition Monfort sat at the counsel table with T.W. and told the presiding judge that he was not representing the man, but rather was just there to “lay the background for the court.” Later at the hearing, T.W. testified that Monfort’s law office had prepared the petition and that he’d paid for the lawyer’s services.
The Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission reached an agreement finding that Monfort had violated three Indiana Professional Conduct Rules – 1.12(a) that prohibits attorneys from representing someone in connection with a matter that the lawyer participated in personally and substantially as a judge without the consent of all parties in the proceeding; 3.3(a)(1) that deals with knowingly making a false statement of fact to a tribunal; and 8.4(c) that prohibits attorneys from engaging in conduct involving deceit or misrepresentation. No aggravators were offered, and the parties agreed the mitigators were that Monfort had no disciplinary history since his admission in 1988, that he expressed remorse, and that he cooperated with the Disciplinary Commission.
“The discipline for Respondent’s misconduct would likely be more severe had this matter been submitted without an agreement,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote for the unanimous court, not including Justice Steven David who didn’t participate. “However, in light of the Court’s desire to foster resolutions of lawyer disciplinary cases, the Court now APPROVES and orders the agreed discipline.”
Monfort’s month-long suspension begins June 24, according to the order in The Matter of Robert V. Monfort, 37S00-1008-DI-418.
Before opening his criminal and civil general practice as a solo practitioner, Monfort had presided over the short-lived Jasper Superior 2, which was created in 1990. Judge Patricia Riley held that seat until her appointment in 1993 to the Indiana Court of Appeals, and Monfort succeeded her on the bench. But a legislative omnibus spending law passed in 1995 called for closing the court. Monfort sued to keep it open – that case ended up before the state’s Supreme Court and in 2000 the justices held that the legislature has the constitutional authority to abolish a court of general jurisdiction but that it couldn’t be closed before the current presiding judge’s term expired.