The Indiana Supreme Court issued two disciplinary opinions Wednesday, including a decision in which the justices suspended an Indianapolis attorney for at least 18 months, citing his “serious deficiencies in representing clients and himself.”
The Disciplinary Commission brought charges against Patrick Stern based on three lawsuits he filed that involved D.R., an elderly woman who owned a condemned building in Indianapolis and was worried about financial liability; J.S., allegedly D.R.’s common law husband; and J.H. a convicted murderer who worked in Stern’s office as a “contract paralegal.”
Stern represented D.R. in her complaint against the city challenging its order that her building be demolished. He drafted a quitclaim deed by which D.R. transferred the building to J.H., which resulted in both of them being jointly and severally responsible for demolition and administrative costs. Stern also represented D.R. in another lawsuit seeking damages for trespass and destroying her property after the building was torn down. He represented J.H. and J.S. in their federal lawsuit against the director of Metropolitan Development for the city of Indianapolis. Stern lost the last two cases, with the courts citing his failure to state a claim, among other reasons.
In In the Matter of: Patrick H. Stern, 49S00-1205-DI-255 , the justices found Stern violated seven rules of Professional Conduct stemming from his use of J.H. as a paralegal, misconduct in the three lawsuits and misconduct during the Disciplinary Commission’s investigation.
Stern has a pattern of misconduct and instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, blamed the judges in the lawsuit, the Disciplinary Commission, and others, the per curiam opinion states. He also has shown no insight into his misconduct. The justices noted Stern showed a lack of basic competence in representing himself – his responses were difficult to understand, riddled with grammatical errors, and he often gave incomplete, inaccurate or incomprehensible responses.
“In light of his serious deficiencies in representing clients and himself and his refusal to acknowledge any misconduct on his part, the Court has grave concerns about Respondent's current fitness to represent clients in the practice of law. We therefore conclude that Respondent should be suspended from practice and undergo a reinstatement proceeding before resuming practice,” the justices ruled, imposing at least an 18-month suspension, beginning Aug. 13.
Justice Steven David dissented with regard to the discipline, believing it is insufficient.
The justices also suspended Hamilton County attorney, Steve Brejensky, for at least a year based on a Class A misdemeanor conversion conviction for taking a bag of mulch from a gas station. Brejensky, who is now listed on the Roll of Attorneys as practicing in Queens, N.Y., never appealed his conviction, but argued in his “late, nonconforming answer” to the Disciplinary Commission that he was wrongly accused of taking the mulch, according to the per curiam opinion, In the Matter of: Steve L. Brejensky, 29S00-1205-DI-277.
The Supreme Court cited in aggravation that Brejenski failed to keep his address on the Roll of Attorneys current, he answered the Disciplinary Commission’s complaint only after the hearing officer ordered him to do so, he failed to comply with deadlines, and the contents of his answer show a lack of remorse for and a lack of insight into the nature of his wrongful conduct.
Brejenski did not report his conviction to the Disciplinary Commission. He also has a disciplinary history, which includes noncooperation with the commission. The justices found he violated two rules of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.
“Given the seriousness of Respondent's misconduct and the substantial facts in aggravation, the Court concludes that Respondent should be suspended for at least one year, after which he may be reinstated only after proving his remorse, rehabilitation, and fitness to practice law,” the opinion states.
The costs of the proceedings are assessed against Stern and Brejenski.