The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended an Elkhart County attorney for at least two years after finding he committed numerous violations of the Indiana Professional Rules of Conduct, including throwing away client files that contained confidential information.
Those client files of Joseph Lehman were tossed into a trash bin where they remained several days. A newspaper reporter found information in the files relating to paternity and divorce cases as well as Social Security numbers and financial information.
The disciplinary action suspending Lehman, handed down Feb. 19, also says the attorney has failed to appear at numerous hearings in cases and has been held in contempt – even jailed – for such failures. He has failed to include filings with a signature, required notices, and correct case numbers and court names. The action also says that Lehman habitually filled out bankruptcy schedules incompletely and commingled client and attorney funds.
The order states: “Judges before whom Respondent practices gave detailed testimony regarding Respondent's deficiencies in 16 different cases. They testified that Respondent has consistently practiced far below the average level of performance for attorneys in Elkhart County, that he has failed to respond to attempts by the judges to help him improve his deficiencies, that he failed to follow through with an agreement to contact the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (‘JLAP’) for an assessment, that Respondent's deficiencies have created a tremendous amount of trouble for court staff, and that his conduct hurts his clients and the court system.” One judge testified that Lehman shows “a complete lack of respect” in his client representation and “an utter disregard of court orders.”
Lehman has no disciplinary history and has represented many clients to a successful completion; however, the hearing officer found in aggravation, among other things, that Lehman has refused to acknowledge his misconduct, the “sheer volume of the repeated violations, apparent dishonesty, and lack of any effort to address or apologize for the problems indicate unfitness to practice” and “he has a contemptuous disregard for the most basic professional obligations.”
The justices found he violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.1; 1.2(a); 1.6(a); 1.9(c)(2); 1.15(a); and 8.4(d); as well as Ind. Admission and Discipline Rules 23(29)(a)(2), (3), and (4).
The suspension begins April 3 and he must petition for reinstatement.