A Fort Wayne lawyer’s latest disciplinary matter resulted in his disbarment for taking $8,725 from clients he represented in a bankruptcy case.
Steven J. Ouellette represented clients who filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2005. “In December 2010, the bankruptcy trustee issued a refund check for $8,725.35, payable to clients. For almost two and one-half years, (Ouellette) did not disclose the existence of this check to Clients,” the Indiana Supreme Court wrote Tuesday in a per curiam opinion.
Ouellette instead fraudulently endorsed the check and deposited it in an account other than his attorney trust account and used the proceeds for his own purposes. When his clients received a final report from the trustee and learned of the refund check, they confronted Ouellette, who promised to repay them.
Ouellette “later issued a check in the amount of $8,725.35, drawn on an account other than his attorney trust account, but Clients were unable to negotiate the check due to insufficient funds,” according to the order In the Matter of: Steven J. Ouellette, 02S00-1502-DI-107. “When Clients later retained successor counsel, (Ouellette) refused to return Clients’ file.”
The unnamed clients filed a disciplinary grievance in October 2013.
Ouellette, who currently was suspended indefinitely in a separate disciplinary matter, violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a), 8.1(b), 8.4(b) and 8.4(c). Respectively, those rules violations are for failing to hold client property in trust; failing to respond to disciplinary authorities; committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness; and conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
The court noted Ouellette failed to timely answer commission filings, proving a belated answer at the commission’s hearing on its application for judgment on the complaint. The commission declined to accept that late filing, and the court in a footnote said, “we likewise decline to give (Ouellette’s) belatedly-tendered answer any effect.”
Last year, Ouellette was suspended for failing to cooperate with the commission’s investigation of a grievance. In May, that suspension was made indefinite. Ouellette also was suspended for 90 days with automatic reinstatement in 2007, and in 1994, the Supreme Court suspended him for two months for making false statements to a tribunal and engaging in dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation for his failure to disclose a party’s financial interest in the financial restructuring of a wholesale beer distributor he represented in bankruptcy court.