Indianapolis attorney and blogger Paul K. Ogden should be suspended from the bar for a year without automatic reinstatement for private communications criticizing a judge, the Indiana Disciplinary Commission recommended Monday.
The commission recommended to the Indiana Supreme Court that Ogden receive the sanction for emails that he sent to another attorney accusing Hendricks Superior Judge David Coleman of mishandling an estate case in which Ogden represented an heir. Coleman was removed from the case under a lazy judge motion Ogden filed, and Ogden claimed the judge made numerous mistakes handling the years-long case.
Ogden’s brief in reply says his speech was private and protected and there should be no sanctions.
At the heart of the complaint against Ogden is an email he sent to opposing counsel Steve Harris of Mooresville, who represented the estate of Robert P. Carr that was administered by Carr’s son, Robert Carr Jr. Ogden represented another heir in the matter.
Among other things, Ogden said in the email that Coleman “should be turned in to the disciplinary commission for how he handled this case.”
In the commission’s tender of proposed hearing officer’s findings of facts, it recommends that hearing officer Robert W. York find that he “cannot stress enough the conclusion that (Ogden) has a profound lack of both insight into his own conduct and lack or respect for those who disagree with him in any way.”
The commission argues aggravators for Ogden include that he believes he is “superior to the courts and the law” and that his criticism of Coleman was “filled with inaccurate claims and slanderous innuendo.”
The year suspension is appropriate, according to the commission, based on “the conduct involved, the lack of insight, the failure not only to acknowledge any wrongdoing, but the inability to even consider his own misconduct, while at the same time proclaiming misconduct on the part of everyone else associated with this matter, the attacks on the integrity of the Commission and the discipline process and his lack of remorse.”
Ogden has responded to the charge that he violated Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2 by asserting his speech was private and protected by the First Amendment.
“Rule 8.2 certainly does not proscribe attorneys from expressing opinions about judges so Ogden’s general opinion about Judge Coleman’s mishandling of the estate and that the judicial discipline body should look into it, is clearly not sanctionable under a rule that requires a false statement of fact,” Ogden’s attorney Adam Lenkowsky asserted in response to the commission’s findings and conclusions of law.
The Indiana Supreme Court will determine what sanction, if any, Ogden receives. Findings of fact and conclusions of law from the commission and Ogden were filed with the court Monday.
Coleman testified at Ogden’s hearing in July, telling York, “I don’t know of anything I did wrong on this case.”
While Ogden stands by his criticism of Coleman with bullet-point examples of what he claims are mistakes the judge made in handling the Carr estate, the commission claims Ogden “had no evidence and has admitted that he has no evidence of any ethical misconduct by Judge Coleman. Thus, the statement that he should be brought up on discipline charges was a complete fabrication,” the commission brief says.
Coleman also said Ogden could have forgone any disciplinary action had he simply apologized for his statements when Coleman sent him a letter about the email, but Ogden refused. That refusal, the commission asserts, was “particularly egregious, we think.”
Ogden “was given an opportunity to simply apologize to Judge Coleman, who would have let the matter go,” the commission brief says. “Instead of apologizing, which he certainly should have done, (Ogden) renewed his lambast and told Judge Coleman he is the one who should apologize.
“This lack of insight into (Ogden’s) own conduct is the most serious issue presented to the court,” the commission asserts.
In response, Ogden argues that he had no duty to apologize and doing so could have compromised a potential appeal, among other things. He also says the exchanges only became public when the commission released them. He claims the record shows multiple problems with Coleman’s handling of the case.
“The fact is, Judge Coleman for two years did allow the estate to continue unsupervised and the executor to serve without bond under his watch,” Ogden argues. He asserts there were problems with estate audits that weren’t conducted and other issues.
Rule 8.2, Ogden claims, “is designed to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice, not shield judges from criticism.” His response argues that application of the rule is “limited to scenarios where a lawyer’s comments actually run the risk of interfering with the administration of justice.” He argues Coleman testified that wasn’t the case here.
“Ogden’s comments were private and occurred after the judge who was subject of criticism had been removed from the case,” his response says.
“Rule 8.2(a) does not apply to a private email sent to a person involved in the same court proceeding or a letter in response to a judge demanding an apology,” Ogden’s brief argues. Ogden also claims that the rule requires application of the actual malice standard.
The commission also filed a brief on its interpretation of First Amendment protections and Rule 8.2.
“The Commission does not dispute that lawyers retain First Amendment rights,” it says. “However, the Commission contends that when a lawyer makes a statement concerning the [lack] of integrity or qualifications of a judge that he knows to be false, or makes such statements without regard to whether they are true or false, essentially, without any credible evidence to support it, there is no constitutional protection.”
Meanwhile, Ogden also is accused violating Rule 8.4(d) for making an ex parte communication by sending a letter to Marion Superior judges concerning a Supreme Court decision regarding disposition of assets seized in civil forfeiture cases.
Ogden said he had no matters before judges who received the letter and that he also sent copies not just to the judges, but to “the very parties who are involved in the issue.”