Indiana Lawyer 2013 Year in Review

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From big judgments to busy law schools and attorneys in trouble, the Indiana legal community saw it all in 2013. We asked you what you thought were the biggest news stories last year. Here's a recap of what made headlines, with your Top 2 picks kicking off the list.

Attorneys misbehaving

An Indiana lawyer being disciplined isn’t necessarily news. This year, the Indiana Supreme Court issued more than 80 disciplinary orders, sometimes dealing with the same attorney matter. But some cases do stand out more than others, like when a judge’s discipline case is believed to be the most voluminous judicial disciplinary proceeding in the state’s history. Marion Superior Judge Kimberly Brown faces 47 counts of judicial misconduct, which include accusations of delayed releases of at least nine inmates from jail and failing to properly oversee her court. The Judicial Qualifications Commission called 39 witnesses against the judge and compiled more than 190 exhibits alleging a catalog of judicial misconduct.

conour-15col.jpg William Conour. (IL file photo)

Brown stunned many when, in her deposition video, she refused to be sworn, saying “I am always an officer of the court. I am a judge.” She took the oath when she testified at her weeklong disciplinary hearing in November.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission accuses her of systemic neglect and failing to do her judicial duties; Brown argues that her staff is to blame for much of her alleged misconduct.

The three masters on the case – retired Monroe Circuit Judge Viola Taliaferro, Boone Superior Judge Rebecca S. McClure and Lake Superior Judge Sheila M. Moss – had to turn in their report to the Supreme Court by Dec. 30. Then it’s up to the justices to decide what, if any, discipline to impose against Brown. Brown is asking for a 60-day suspension; the Judicial Qualifications Commission has recommended she be removed from office.

Ex-attorney William Conour made headlines again this year after pleading guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud, for which he received a 10-year sentence. The U.S. attorney argued Conour deserved 20 years for stealing nearly $7 million from more than 30 clients over the years. Conour took money that was supposed to go to wrongful-death and personal-injury clients and their families. His attorney argued for leniency. The 10-year sentence is less than the advisory range of 14 to 17.5 years. Both Conour and the government are appealing his sentence.

Conour was charged with wire fraud in April 2012.

Brown Brown

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law announced it would return the $450,000 donation Conour and his now ex-wife Jennifer made to the school, which named its atrium after the couple. The $30,000 Conour donated to the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association four years ago was also donated by the association to a restitution fund.

In an effort to recoup funds for victims, many of Conour’s possessions – including art, wine and household furnishings seized by United States Marshals – were auctioned in November. The online auction raised more than $105,000 before commissions or fees were subtracted.

Southern Indiana lawyer Peter Raventos pleaded guilty to Class B misdemeanor false reporting in September in a bizarre case in which Raventos originally reported being shot in McCormick’s Creek State Park in June 2012. Turns out, he staged the shooting by rigging up a shotgun in the state park. Raventos told investigators that he staged the shooting only aimed at himself and he didn’t do it with the intent of pursuing financial gain. As part of his sentencing, he has to be assessed for and complete any mental health and substance abuse counseling ordered. He’s not allowed in any state parks during his one-year probation.

And in another strange case, a Kokomo attorney ran off to Australia this fall, leaving his clients in the dark. Bradley Hamilton allegedly left Indiana to be with his wife and children in his wife’s native Australia. But by doing so, he left as many as 80 clients who pre-paid for bankruptcy petitions that he failed to file before leaving. His appointed attorney surrogate, Brent Dechert, said that Hamilton also left about 150 active cases. Some of those clients didn’t know Hamilton had left the country until they showed up in court and he wasn’t there.

“It’s quite a mess,” Dechert said, referring to the situation. “This was not the way [the practice] should have been closed down.”

Previous conviction? Expunge it!

Indiana’s expungement law took effect in 2013, allowing people convicted of certain crimes to have their criminal records restricted. The new law allows records to be sealed and expunged for people arrested but not convicted or if a conviction is vacated on appeal. It also allows people convicted of misdemeanors to petition the court for expungement not earlier than five years after the date of conviction, and for people convicted of Class D felonies to ask for expungement eight years after the date of conviction.

The law led to nearly 300 people showing up at the Marion County Clerk’s office July 1 seeking to file a petition to expunge their records on the mistaken belief that was the only day they could seek the expungement. Attorneys cautioned that people be very careful about trying to file the petition on their own. You only can file for expungement one time and, if the petition fails, you have to wait three years before trying again.

The popularity and complexity of the new law also led to forums being held across the state on the topic. It’s unclear if, under the new law, people who have felony convictions expunged are no longer prohibited from possessing a firearm. There are also questions as to what “successful completion” of a conviction and sentence means under the law.

Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega believes that the expungement statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t give victims of crimes a voice in certain cases. Morgan Circuit Judge Matthew Hanson rejected Sonnega’s constitutional arguments Oct. 28 and granted an expungement to a person convicted of misdemeanor reckless driving years earlier. In such cases, I.C. 35-38-5 says courts “shall” grant expungements if requirements of the law have been met. Hanson’s order denied most of Sonnega’s constitutional arguments but left an opening, and Sonnega said he aims to take it in an upcoming case. Because the state was the victim in the reckless driving case, Hanson ruled that constitutional claim regarding victims’ rights wasn’t ripe.

Sonnega said he will raise the argument again in a case set for January in which a petitioner seeks to expunge a misdemeanor battery conviction. He pleaded guilty after his child molestation trials in the 1990s ended in hung juries. Sonnega said the victim in this case objects to expungement. Requiring the court to grant an expungement without considering the victim’s voice in such a case “offends my prosecutor DNA more than someone saying, ‘You’re a prosecutor; you’re supposed to stick up for the law,’” Sonnega said.

Indiana sees new law school, deans

2013 was a busy year for the state’s law schools, which now total five. Indiana Tech Law School opened in August, welcoming 30 students – far less than the target goal of 100 students in the inaugural class. Indiana Tech held a special dedication ceremony for the law school Sept. 14. Since Indiana Tech voted in 2011 to open a law school in Fort Wayne, some have questioned whether the state needs a fifth law school in the midst of a legal jobs market some consider saturated.

“You see, people may write things about us,” Dean Peter Alexander said to the crowd at the ceremony. “They may blog about us. They might even insist that they know where we are coming from and what really we are about. I can’t do anything about that and neither can you. Their slings and arrows are crafted in the darkness of ignorance and they take aim in the green eye called envy. But I’m really not worried about those people. I have a higher calling.”

Alexander Alexander

Joining the celebration were guest speakers 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, along with Katherine Broderick, dean of the David A. Clarke School of Law. Easterbrook addressed attendees, praising Indiana Tech for trying new ways of presenting legal education. Alexander has defended criticism of the law school by saying the offering of a blend of theory and practice will make the school unique.

Easterbrook also took swipes at the American Bar Association and traditional legal education for taking a one-size-fits-all approach. He advocated that choosing the appropriate model for teaching future lawyers should be left to clients, or an evaluation service like the magazines Consumer Reports or U.S. News & World Report rather than the ABA.

“The one-size-fits-all approach has been the bane of legal education,” Easterbrook said. “We need many sizes for the many different career paths.”

Indiana Tech constructed a new three-story building for the law school, which includes a curated art collection. According to Alexander, Indiana Tech Law School is only the second law school in the country to have such a collection.

klein Klein

The school has the capacity to hold 350 students and includes 28 faculty offices.

But Indiana Tech didn’t dominate law school headlines this year; three of the four existing law schools in Indiana were searching for deans in 2013. Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Valparaiso University Law School, and Indiana University Maurer School of Law introduced their new leaders this year. Andrew Klein, a professor at IU McKinney School of Law, was tapped to take over for Gary Roberts, who retired as dean of the Indianapolis law school because he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. Andrea D. Lyon, a professor at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, was appointed in November as dean at Valparaiso Law. She starts in June 2014. Austen Parrish, who served as interim dean and CEO at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, began his tenure as dean at IU Maurer School of Law Jan. 1.

parrish Parrish

Klein took over as IU McKinney’s dean July 1. He was on faculty at the law school for 13 years at the time of his appointment. Lyon is a well-known criminal defense expert who has written about her experience in a book and blogged for the Huffington Post.

The three take on the role of dean at a time when the legal education model is coming under fire. Law school enrollment across the country is declining and critics constantly point to the high cost to attend school and the sluggish job market for attorneys.

“I have a vision of the school as being a model of what legal education should be like in the 21st century,” Klein said. “We’re already doing a lot of the things people say law schools should do. We’re a model for law schools around the country.”

Lyon believes the traditional legal education model has got to go – the large-lecture format with students only being taught the caselaw method – because the market will not tolerate it. No longer can students pick up the practice skills on the job, she said. They need to arrive already knowing how to interview a client, investigate facts and interpret a statute. All students must receive hands-on experience, not just the ones who choose to participate in clinics, she said.

Parrish was selected after IU Maurer spent more than a year searching for its next dean. He is an expert on transnational litigation, civil procedure and conflict of laws. His colleague at Southwestern, Bryant Garth, served as dean of IU Maurer School of Law from 1986 to 1990.

lyon Lynn

“Austen brings extraordinary talent and remarkable energy to his teaching, scholarship and administration,” Garth said. “He is going to be a superb dean and I am really happy that Indiana will be the beneficiary of his leadership.”

Criminal code overhauled

Legislators in 2013 passed the first comprehensive reform of Indiana’s criminal code in more than 35 years. HEA 1006 made various changes to the criminal code, including to community corrections, sentencing and many crimes. It removes the current four-level felony penalty classification and replaces it with a six-level felony penalty classification.

Some of the bill took effect July 1, 2013, but the reclassification of felonies won’t start until July 1, 2014.

The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee spent months examining the law, studying the sentencing provisions and funding issues. At its last two meetings in December, the study committee received results of two studies that look at the financial aspect of the revisions.

A central goal behind the new criminal code is to reduce recidivism by keeping lower-level offenders in their home counties where they would be handled through intensive supervision and monitoring, as well as treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. Funding to pay for these services is expected to come from savings realized by having fewer inmates in state prisons, but the Department of Correction believes the number of inmates in prison will increase at a quicker pace under the revisions, evaporating any potential savings.

Lawyers drive, skydive and tend to hives

apb-il-beekeeping02-15col.jpg Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP attorneys (from left) John Ketcham, Chris Plews and George Plews enjoy beekeeping. (IL file photo)

Some days, it feels like you never leave the office. But we know lawyers are not all work and no play, so we like to highlight the interesting and quirky things you do when you’re off the clock. This year, we introduced you to lawyers who spend their weekends behind the wheel of a race car, a few who willingly jump out of perfectly good airplanes, and a couple who opened their yard to bees in need of a new home.

Muncie attorney John LaRue and Indianapolis lawyer William Batten are professional-level drivers who compete in different circuits of the Sports Car Club of America series. Batten’s interest in racing came after making a New Year’s resolution as an adult to get into the sport. LaRue’s entry into the racing world began when he raced go-karts as a youngster.

Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP partner Curt DeVoe is a chief driving instructor with the Central Indiana Region of the Porsche Club of America. He also competes in the ChumpCar and LeMons series.

racing-devoe-15col.jpg Curt DeVoe is chief driving instructor with the Central Indiana Region of the Porsche Club of America. (IL file photo)

Some of DeVoe’s colleagues at Plews get their thrills in the air instead of on the ground. Amy Romig with the firm has made more than 1,300 jumps, one this year with Indiana Lawyer reporter Emily Hinkel. (Yes, we’re that dedicated to accurately reporting the story!) Having that many jumps under her belt means Romig isn’t at all nervous when hurling herself out of a plane 12,000 feet in the air. And she’s just one of eight attorneys at the firm who have skydived, often at the encouragement of Romig.

And in what may be considered the tamest of the hobbies only when compared to their colleagues, George “Corky” Plews and his wife, Chris Plews, became the adoptive parents of fellow attorney John Ketcham’s honeybees when the bees needed a new home. Neither Ketcham nor the Plewses wear beekeeper suits when their around the bees. Getting stung, which they admit has happened a handful of times, doesn’t bother them. And the Plewses’ reward for taking in the 6,000 bees? Delicious honey, which they shared with family and friends.

Coast to coast fore a good cause

Golf1-15col.jpg Indiana University Robert. H. McKinney School of Law student Luke Bielawski played the ball wherever it landed during his cross-country fundraiser. (IL file photo)

An Indianapolis law student made national headlines this year for his driving – with a golf club. Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law student Luke Bielawski swung his golf club for 96 days as he made his way across the country raising money for Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. He started at the Pacific Ocean, teeing off and playing the ball where it lied. He hit in deserts, fields, roadways and even water parks. He started around 8 a.m. and played until 5:30 p.m., taking breaks for meals. He hit his final shot on Aug. 10 in South Carolina. Bielawski even met President George W. Bush in Dallas.

Write down those pro bono hours

cj2-15col.jpg Indianapolis Bar Association members listen to Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson make the case for reporting pro bono hours. The ISBA House of Delegates approved the proposal. (IL file photo)

The Indiana State Bar Association’s House of Delegates this fall approved a proposal championed by Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson that for the first time would mandate attorneys report the number of hours of free legal service they provide annually. The resolution passed with the understanding that there will be further study on what constitutes pro bono work and an assurance that the proposal won’t be a step toward mandating attorneys provide pro bono work. There is also the unanswered question as to whether each attorney’s reported pro bono hours should be publicly disclosed on the Roll of Attorneys.

The goal of the requirement is to encourage pro bono work and change the culture in the profession to favor more volunteerism. Several states, including Florida, require their attorneys to report the number of pro bono hours provided. Florida has seen an increase in the number of volunteer hours provided by attorneys since the requirement was imposed.

Taft moves into Chicago market with merger

The record-breaking year for law firm mergers included firms with strong Indiana ties. Altman Weil MergerLine suggested this summer that 2013 could see a high number of mergers and acquisitions. Going into the fourth quarter, 78 mergers had been announced, eight more than the previous record of 70 set in 2008. Included in this year’s mergers is Taft Stettinius & Hollister’s combination with Chicago firm Shefksy & Froelich, which brings Taft to nearly 400 attorneys firm-wide.

In addition to Taft, four other firms in the state have combined this year. In June, Lorch and Naville and Ward King Agnew in New Albany combined to create a 14-attorney firm of Lorch Naville Ward LLC. In September, Fort Wayne firm Federoff Kuchmay LLP merged with Carson Boxberger LLP, upping the total of attorneys at Carson Boxberger to 27.

Longtime firm Stewart & Irwin abruptly closes

Stewart & Irwin P.C. in Indianapolis shut down this summer and its closure remains a mystery. The firm ceased practice without a public statement or acknowledgment. In early June, its top-floor offices at 251 E. Ohio St. in Indianapolis were locked after a private gathering a few days prior for people who had worked there. Representatives of some clients listed on the firm’s website who spoke to IL on condition of anonymity said they received notice letters from the firm just a few days before its closing at the end of May. Those clients said they continue to have relationships with former Stewart & Irwin lawyers who moved on to different firms.

The firm is said to have engaged in merger discussions dating back a year or more, but none panned out.

Stewart & Irwin was founded in 1921 and represented a wide range of private-sector and government clients. It had downsized by almost one-third in the past five years. The firm listed on its website just before shutting down that it had 24 lawyers, including 13 shareholders or equity shareholders, five associates and six attorneys listed either as of counsel or retired. In the 2008 Indiana Legal Directory, S&I listed 34 lawyers: 21 shareholders or equity shareholders, seven associates and six of counsel.

Attorneys from the firm ended up scattered around the city, including at SmithAmundsen LLC, Bose McKinney & Evans LLP and Katz & Korin P.C.

Longest-practicing attorney calls it quits

cholis-alex-6492-15col.jpg Alexis “Alex” Cholis, 96, retired this year after practicing more than 70 years in South Bend. (IL file photo)

In 2013, Indiana Lawyer kicked off its series “Legal Lions” as a way to highlight attorneys who have had long and distinguished careers spanning half a century, or in Alexis “Alex” Thomas Cholis’ case, more than 70 years. Cholis was admitted to the bar in July 1942 and decided in 2013 that it was finally time to retire at the age of 96.

For more than 60 years, he came to the office his older brother Nicholas founded in South Bend in 1936. Before joining that firm, he served in the Army during World War II. He likely would have continued practicing beyond 2013 if it wasn’t for his eyesight becoming worse.

kappes Phil Kappes (IL file photo)

Cholis practiced in tax and estate matters. Those who knew and worked with Cholis described him as a gentleman and unique character, in addition to being a lot of fun.

Until his retirement, Cholis was the longest-practicing attorney in Indiana by six years, according to the Roll of Attorneys. The No. 2 spot is held by Philip “Skip” Kappes, who is going on 66 years of practice in 2014. Upon graduating from law school in 1948, Kappes worked for Indianapolis Legal Aid Society before going into private practice, eventually forming the firm Dutton Kappes and Overman. After its dissolution, Kappes founded Lewis & Kappes P.C., where he continues to practice a few days a week.

poff Poff

Don’t think it’s just men who dedicated their lives to the practice of law. Phyllis Gratz Poff, a solo practitioner in Auburn, has been a lawyer for 60 years. She’s the longest-practicing female attorney in the state based on Roll of Attorney records. Poff was admitted to the bar in December 1953 and opened her office in February 1954. Those who know her and work with her say she is compassionate, generous and a very skilled lawyer. She concentrates her practice on family law and some estate work and says she has no plans of retiring.

Top cases of 2013

AM General LLC v. BAE Systems Inc., et al., 71D07-0907-PL00195. St. Joseph Superior Judge Michael P. Scopelitis ruled in April that Humvee maker AM General LLC of Mishawaka is entitled to more than $277 million from the company that supplied kits for troops to retrofit the vehicles with armor, and for armor installed in subsequent years. BAE Systems breached its contract with AM General and violated most-favored customer clauses. Scopelitis’ ruling painted a picture of rampant overcharges from BAE and its predecessor companies that AM General passed on to the Army, even as AM General sought to determine true costs. The government ultimately determined it was overcharged millions due to BAE’s pricing for armored parts. BAE, a United Kingdom-based company, filed its appeal in October, which is still pending before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

hazing-15col.jpg The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments in April in an alleged hazing liability suit involving the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity house at Wabash College. (IL file photo)

Brian Yost v. Wabash College, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Inc., Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity – Indiana Gamma Chapter at Wabash College, and Nathan Cravens, 54S01-1303-CT-61. The college hazing case is pending before the Indiana Supreme Court. The justices are asked to decide what constitutes hazing and whether Wabash College and Phi Kappa Psi’s Indiana Gamma Chapter owed a duty to protect pledge Brian Yost, who was injured when fraternity brothers placed him in a chokehold and dropped him. The Indiana Court of Appeals in October 2012 affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the college and fraternity defendants, holding they owed no duty to Yost. Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, believing the facts could lead one to conclude that Yost was hazed.

Bowman v. Monsanto Co., et al., 11-796. The Supreme Court of the United States in May unanimously held that patent exhaustion doesn’t allow Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission. Monsanto Co. sued Bowman for patent infringement after he purchased soybeans intended for consumption from a grain elevator and planted them later in the season. The purchase agreement of Roundup Ready soybeans – which Bowman purchased for his first crop of the season – allows a grower to plant those seeds only in one season. Those seeds can’t be saved for replanting or supplied to someone else for that purpose. Bowman used some of the soybeans that contained the Roundup Ready trait again for late-season planting in the next season. A federal court in Indiana had awarded nearly $85,000 in damages to Monsanto. Bowman argued that patent exhaustion shouldn’t apply in this case because he used the seeds in the normal way farmers do.

weinberger-mark-mug.jpg Weinberger

• In the summer, a majority of former patients of “Nose Doctor” Mark Weinberger of Merrillville settled their medical malpractice cases against him. More than 300 of Weinberger’s former patients sued after learning he performed unnecessary or damaging surgeries on their sinuses. When the cases began mounting against Weinberger, he fled the country and eluded authorities for years before being captured in 2009 in the Italian Alps. The patient settlements will average more than $200,000 and range from about $120,000 to $470,000. The settlement did not include cases represented by the Merrillville law office of Kenneth J. Allen & Associates.

Daniel Brewington v. State of Indiana, 15A01-1110-CR-550. This First Amendment case centers on posts by Daniel Brewington on blogs that took aim at Dearborn Circuit Judge James Humphrey, who presided in Brewington’s custody case. Brewington was prosecuted for the posts that claimed, among other things, that Humphrey was a child abuser for stripping Brewington of custody. He was convicted of intimidation, perjury and obstruction of justice based on the comments. A dozen parties filed amicus briefs, fearing that if the verdict that was affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals stands, it will chill speech, opinions expressed in the media and political speech. The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments in September as to whether to take the case, and no transfer had been granted or denied by IL deadline.

Indiana Newspapers, Inc. v. Miller, 980 N.E.2d 852 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), ended in October when Indiana Supreme Court vacated the transfer it had granted in the case. The Indianapolis Star agreed to work on complying with a court order that the newspaper provide identifying characteristics of a commenter who posted on the paper’s website. Former Junior Achievement of Indiana CEO Jeffrey Miller sued multiple parties for defamation and sought to add people who made anonymous comments on news organization websites that ran stories about Miller and Junior Achievement. He sued The Star after it refused to provide information about “DownWithTheColts.” The newspaper argued in court that the speech of the online commenter was protected under the First Amendment.

shuai Shuai

• The murder and attempted feticide charges against Bei Bei Shuai were dropped in August after she pleaded guilty to Class B misdemeanor criminal recklessness. Shuai’s case made international headlines after the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office filed the murder and attempted feticide charges following the death of her newborn daughter more than two years ago. Shuai, a Chinese immigrant, ingested rat poison while pregnant after being jilted by the baby’s father. The newborn was delivered but died several days later. Her attorney, Linda Pence, argued that charges never should have been filed as Shuai was depressed. The plea deal came after adverse rulings from the trial court that limited or may have limited the state’s evidence. Shuai was in jail for 14 months until the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered she was entitled to bail. Her trial was set to begin in September.

William D. Grote, III, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al., 13-1077. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in November ruled in favor of the Roman Catholic owners of Grote Industries, which sought relief from the “contraception mandate” in the Affordable Care Act under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The split Circuit Court ordered an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the mandate, which requires companies that provide health insurance to employees provide coverage for birth control. Dissenting Judge Ilana Rovner warned that the appellate court was rewriting the law to extend rights of religion to a for-profit, secular corporation, opening a host of federal regulations to religious challenge from corporation owners. Also in November, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to take two other cases dealing with the contraception mandate.•

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