Indianapolis attorney and blogger Paul Ogden has been suspended for 30 days by the Indiana Supreme Court based on comments he made regarding a judge who presided over an estate case involving Ogden’s client.
The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission brought two counts against Ogden in March 2013. Count I stems from comments he made regarding Hendricks Superior Judge David H. Coleman, who was appointed special judge in an unsupervised estate case. Ogden successfully had Coleman replaced on the case. In 2010, Ogden made several “highly critical” comments about Coleman in correspondences.
The comment that resulted in Ogden being disciplined alleged that the judge committed malfeasance in the initial stages of the administration of the estate by allowing it to be opened as an unsupervised estate, by appointing a personal representative with a conflict of interest, and by not requiring the posting of bond, the disciplinary order states.
“Respondent’s repeated and virulent accusations that Judge Coleman committed malfeasance in the initial stages of the administration of the Estate were not just false; they were impossible because Judge Coleman was not even presiding over the Estate at this time—a fact Respondent could easily have determined. Because Respondent lacked any objectively reasonable basis for (these) statements, we conclude that Respondent made these statements in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity, thus violating Rule 8.2(a),” the justices unanimously held in an order handed down Monday.
The commission did not meet its burden of proof regarding the other comments Ogden made regarding Coleman, the justices found, leading the court to find Ogden’s criticisms of Coleman’s rulings fall within his broad First Amendment rights. And although another allegation of a conflict of interest turned out to be false, it was based upon Ogden’s client’s reports to him. The justices found Ogden’s allegation that Coleman was unqualified as a judge and that he engaged in judicial misconduct in presiding over the estate were “more in the nature of opinions as opposed to statements of fact.”
Count II deals with letters Ogden sent to the Marion Superior Court, Civil Division, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, the Indiana attorney general and the Marion County public safety director, asking that they ensure the law regarding forfeiture is followed and enforced. At the time the letters were sent, Ogden was not representing any party in pending forfeiture cases.
The justices concluded that the Disciplinary Commission did not present clear and convincing evidence that the letters Ogden sent were prejudicial to the administration of justice.
They also noted that Ogden has been “obstreperous rather than cooperative” during the course of this disciplinary proceeding.
His suspension begins Aug. 5 and he will be automatically reinstated. Ogden is to pay one-half of the costs and expenses of this proceeding, along with a $250 fee.