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Supreme Court suspends Vanderburgh County attorney for 240 days

May 13, 2015

A southern Indiana attorney has been suspended for violating several professional conduct and discipline rules after he failed to adequately manage his trust account and neglected a client’s case, among other actions constituting misconduct.

The Indiana Supreme Court handed down a 240-day suspension without automatic reinstatement for Andrew D. Thomas after finding he engaged in attorney misconduct. He was charged with multiple rule violations, but the hearing officer did not find Thomas violated Counts 2 through 6 of the complaint filed by the Disciplinary Commission. The counts alleged are: mismanagement of Thomas’ trust account (counts 1 and 2); Thomas’ failure to list his attorney trust account in his bankruptcy disclosures (Count 3); payments of his personal expenses from the trust account (counts 4 and 6); using client funds deposited into his operating account to purchase credit reports (Count 5); and failure to file an answer in representing a client sued by a bank (Count 8).

Count 7 was withdrawn by the commission at the beginning of the hearing.

The Disciplinary Commission asked the Supreme Court to review the hearing officer’s adverse findings and conclusions on Counts 2 through 6 as well as several mitigating factors found by the hearing officer.

In the per curiam decision in In the Matter of: Andrew D. Thomas, 82S00-1305-DI-386, the justices noted that Thomas expressly stipulated in advance of the hearing that he committed conversion, and in doing so, violated Professional Conduct Rules 8.4(a) and 8.4(b). Thomas is bound by these stipulations, and the hearing officer erred by not giving them effect, the opinion notes.

The justices also found that Thomas violated his duty of candor toward a tribunal under Professional Conduct Rule 3.3(a)(1) by failing to list his attorney trust account in his bankruptcy schedules and SOFA. While in most instances, an attorney’s trust account will not vest in the bankruptcy estate because it contains property of other people, Thomas’ account at the time was in such shambles that he could not adequately identify whose money was in the account.

Thomas violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.15(a) and Admission and Discipline Rule 23(29)(a)(4) by improperly commingling client funds with his own when purchasing credit reports. Money he received from clients should have been deposited into his trust account and withdrawn only as expenses incurred instead of depositing these advanced fees into his operating account, the justices ruled.

The hearing officer recommended Thomas receive 90 days suspended without automatic reinstatement; the Disciplinary Commission wanted at least three years, without automatic reinstatement. The justices’ discipline met somewhere in the middle, suspending Thomas for 240 days without automatic reinstatement beginning June 23.
 

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