COA: Out-of-state attorneys demonstrated good cause for pro hac vice admission

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A Lake County judge misinterpreted a local rule when he determined that five attorneys seeking pro hac vice admission in a contract dispute did not overcome a presumption that attorneys not licensed in Indiana are not permitted to practice before the court. The Court of Appeals ordered the admission of the attorneys.

The five attorneys from Minnesota and Wisconsin sought pro hac vice admission to represent 10 franchisees of DirectBuy Inc., all of which are located outside of Indiana. The complaint was filed by local counsel, who then sought admission of the five out-of-state attorneys. DirectBuy’s counsel fought the admission, arguing that the attorneys have an “aggravated litigation” style that will drive up the costs of litigation. DirectBuy also claimed in-state attorneys could handle the “garden-variety contract lawsuit.”

Lake Superior Judge John Sedia ruled in favor of DirectBuy. While he found the five attorneys to be qualified and knowledgeable in franchise law, he pointed to Local Rule 5(C), under which there is a presumption that an attorney not licensed in Indiana is not permitted to practice before the Lake Superior Court. Sedia wrote in his order that he wasn’t persuaded that local attorneys couldn’t handle the franchise law issues.

Out-of-state admission is granted under Ind. Admission and Discipline Rule 3(2), as long as certain conditions are met. The appellants claimed that Local Rule 5(C) conflicted with Rule 3(2) and should be declared void, but the judges found that both rules can apply to a given situation. Rule 3(2) permits members of a bar of another state to appear in a particular case or proceeding “only if” the court determines that good cause for the appearance exists and that the attorney demonstrates the conditions of subparagraphs 1-4 are met, Judge Elaine Brown wrote. The local rule simply states that non members of the Indiana bar are generally not permitted to practice in Lake County, they may appear for a specifically limited purpose and time, and in order to do so, must strictly comply with Rule 3(2)(a).

“Thus, we find that Local Rule 5(C) merely directs counsel to the applicable rule governing pro hac vice admission, Rule 3(2),” she wrote.

But Sedia misinterpreted the local rule in that he believed it holds a presumption against allowing pro hac vice admissions.

“Indeed, if Local Rule 5(C) were to contain a presumption against allowing members of another state’s bar to practice pro hac vice, then it would be ‘in conflict’ with Rule 3(2)(a), she wrote.

The judges remanded YTC Dream Homes, Inc., et al. v. DirectBuy, Inc., et al., 45A03-1312-PL-467, with instructions to grant the pro hac vice admission.

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