R. Mark Keaton lost his license to practice law recently, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing his vendetta against a woman who ended what the Indiana Supreme Court called “a tempestuous long-distance relationship.”
Justices let Keaton have it in an April 21 disbarment order that unabashedly detailed “a repugnant pattern of behavior and utter lack of remorse” for stalking, intimidating and threatening the woman. Keaton also engaged in revenge porn and continues to maintain explicit photos he posted of his victim on adult-oriented websites, the court said.
“His inability or unwillingness to appreciate the wrongfulness of his misconduct, and his propensity throughout to shift blame to others and see himself as the victim, all lead us unhesitatingly to conclude that disbarment is warranted,” the court concluded in a per curiam opinion.
As troubling as Keaton’s behavior is, he’s not alone. At least two other Indiana attorneys have been severely disciplined in the past two years for conduct involving harassment or retribution targeting romantic interests.
“I can’t say I have any sympathy for the man. He really took himself out,” Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor and legal ethics expert Fran Watson said of Keaton’s disbarment.
“The horrible part is, he didn’t back off. There’s always a possibility he could have salvaged something at some point,” Watson said.
Because Keaton refused to moderate his behavior and was “deceitful” in answering charges brought by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, the court issued the ultimate sanction. Watson said it was clearly warranted. Fewer than 10 attorneys have been disbarred in the last five years.
“I’m appalled that given this man’s apparent blessings, he couldn’t have conducted himself in a more responsible legal way,” Watson said. But she doesn’t believe the problems of a few rogue lawyers are symptomatic of a larger problem in the profession.
“Lawyers are held out to be leaders and here is this person who one would assume has some kind of blessed intelligence, and he can’t get beyond chasing the skirt,” she said.
Keaton’s disbarment was widely reported and lent Indiana’s legal profession a black eye. Websites from ABA Journal to Above the Law carried prominent articles, some of which noticed the recent spate of Indiana lawyers exhibiting extreme and inappropriate behavior.
“God bless you, Indiana. You never fail to disappoint when it comes to the crazy,” Above the Law wrote in covering Keaton’s disbarment. “They’ve got lawyers demanding sex for legal services, breaching confidentiality for personal vendettas, and now this thing. I guess the word ‘Hoosiers’ means ‘ethically challenged lawyers’?”
Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said the court would have no statement beyond Keaton’s disbarment order. Fort Wayne attorney Susan B. Eisenhauer, the hearing officer in Keaton’s case, also declined to comment beyond the record in the case.
An attorney who represents Keaton’s victim, who is now an attorney herself, also declined to comment.
Keaton, who was 41 and married when he developed an intimate relationship with his daughter’s college roommate a decade ago, engaged in a “scorched earth” campaign when the woman discontinued the relationship in 2008, according to the 12-page disbarment order, In the Matter of: R. Mark Keaton, 02S00-1302-DI-95.
The order includes dozens of examples of “threatening, abusive and highly manipulative” communications from Keaton to the woman identified as J.D. She recorded and preserved 90 voicemails from Keaton, and the court notes that from March 2008 to April 2010, at least 7,199 emails were exchanged, the vast majority sent by Keaton.
In a footnote, the court wrote, “One illustrative example among the many similar voicemails left by respondent and preserved by JD is the following:
‘(Shouting) Call me the f*** back! I don’t know who the f*** you think you are. But I’ll tell you what, you better f***ing call me f***ing back now! You f*** with me one more time and this time you’ll really f***ing pay for it! And you need to think about it! Now you f***ing quit f***ing with me! I f***ing deal with your f***ing illness so f***ing long, don’t f*** with me another f***ing day! Not another f***ing day! You return my call right now!’”
“We agree with the hearing officer’s assessment that ‘[t]he true angry, hostile and threatening content and tone present in the voicemails can only be fully understood’ by listening to them. … Quite simply, they are profoundly disturbing.”
J.D. obtained a protective order against Keaton in April 2010, and in May of that year, Keaton was charged with felony stalking in Monroe County. “This criminal case, which would prove to be the first of several legal proceedings spawned by (Keaton’s) conduct toward JD, eventually was dismissed without prejudice by the State in April 2011 based on personal privacy concerns raised by JD,” the order says.
Keaton also threatened to post explicit photos of J.D., following through on the revenge-porn threat in 2008, when he uploaded images to various adult-oriented websites. In one email, he wrote to J.D., “Just so you know, they’ve been up on one site since March 1, when you started this s***. 151 pictures to date; 209,748 hits!”
The order says Keaton at one point hired a private detective to attempt to get J.D.’s contact information from her landlord after she changed her phone number.
“Respondent showed up unannounced at JD’s residence, peeping into her bedroom window. Respondent also confronted JD in her law school library and later impeded her ability to get into her car and leave. After his conduct involving JD gave rise to criminal proceedings and a disciplinary investigation, Respondent filed three separate pro se lawsuits against JD and others, and later made duplicitous statements to the Commission in reference to those related proceedings.
“Most disturbingly, despite the entreaties of JD and several others, Respondent simply has refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. … (T)o this day Respondent refuses to part with the blog or with the explicit photos he continues to hold as leverage against JD; Respondent instead has told JD ‘[y]ou will simply have the mistakes you made plastered all over for all to see for the rest of your life.’”
In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income.
Keaton had been under suspension for failing to fulfill continuing legal education requirements. He has been assessed the costs of the proceedings, which determined Keaton had committed violations of five rules of professional conduct.•