An Indianapolis attorney who spent several years working in a firm with attorney William Conour satisfied his legal duty to clients of Conour based on his lack of knowledge of any specific wrongdoing by Conour related to the clients, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. Conour is currently in federal prison for stealing from client settlement funds.
Jim and Diana Love hired Conour Law firm in August 2008 to represent them in a personal injury lawsuit. Timothy Devereux worked at the law firm and joined Conour on the case. In December 2011, Devereux left the law firm amid concerns that Conour wasn’t timely paying expenses and expert witness fees. At that time, he had no suspicion or knowledge, according to the opinion, that Conour was settling cases without clients’ knowledge and keeping their settlement funds.
When Devereux left, the Loves elected to remain with the Conour firm instead of following Devereux to Ladendorf & Ladendorf. He believed he had been removed from the Loves’ case but later learned he was still listed as an attorney on their matter in April 2012.
The opinion notes that when Devereux left the Conour firm, he also contacted the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission with his concerns about timely paying expenses and expert witness fees. The next month, Devereux was contacted by the FBI regarding an investigation that Conour was not properly funding annuities for clients.
After the Loves discovered that Conour had settled their case for $120,000 in February 2012 without their knowledge or consent, they filed a complaint against Devereux that he had a duty to inform them that Conour “was in serious ethical and criminal predicaments and that the Loves were in peril of being victimized.”
Both parties filed for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. On interlocutory appeal in Timothy Devereux v. Jim and Diana Love, 49A02-1404-CT-260, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and ordered summary judgment entered in favor of Devereux.
“As is set forth above, the instant matter involves deceit and theft of client funds by Conour, who, at the time, was a highly-respected member of the Indiana legal profession. Hindsight proves that Conour was not worthy of this high level of respect but, rather, was a thief who violated the trust and confidences that numerous clients, including the Loves, had placed in him. In reviewing the claims of legal malpractice set forth herein against Devereux, however, we must not view the matter through the lens of hindsight, but rather must look to what Devereux knew at the time he is alleged to have committed legal malpractice by failing to warn the Loves of Conour’s potential wrongdoing,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.
“Devereux acknowledges that he had a duty to exercise ordinary skill and knowledge in relation to his representation of the Loves while serving as one of their counsel of record. Devereux contends, however, that his decision not to discuss his concerns regarding Conour with the Loves did not amount to a breach of this duty. We agree.”
The judges agreed that it would not have been appropriate for him to share his concerns regarding Conour with the Loves at the time he ended his employment with the firm. And the designated evidence supports his assertion that he did not have any specific knowledge of any wrongdoing by Conour relating to the Loves or that Conour was mishandling any active cases.