Lawyer sanctioned for ‘abandonment’ of federal case gets reprimand

A Lake County lawyer whose client learned his battery case against Hammond police was dismissed after his daughter looked up court records online has received discipline from the Indiana Supreme Court: a public reprimand.

The blemish on the record of Hammond attorney Eduardo Fontanez Jr. comes as a result of an agreement for discipline justices approved Monday.

Fontanez in April 2013 sued on behalf of client Bennie Crosley, who alleged battery and negligent supervision against the city of Hammond and the police department. The suit claimed Crosley was injured after his arrest when an officer slammed him against a wall. He sought $500,000 in damages.

But District Judge Rudy Lozano of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana in 2014 dismissed the case with prejudice and sanctioned Fontanez, adopting a magistrate’s order that found he refused to engage in discovery, answer motions to compel or attend hearings on sanctions.

“(T)he history of dilatoriness is profound. In fact, it’s not quite accurate to call it dilatory; rather, it is a complete abandonment,” Northern District Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry wrote in April 2014. “Plaintiff has not done anything in this case since August 2013, nearly eight months ago. This abandonment makes it impossible for the case to go forward and weighs strongly in favor of dismissal with prejudice.

“Plaintiff’s drastic failures justify use of a drastic sanction,” the magistrate wrote. “There is nothing in the record to suggest that lesser sanctions would spur Plaintiff into compliance. If the case cannot be moved forward, it needs to end.”

Justices found Fontanez failed to serve initial disclosures, respond to discovery, respond to an order to compel discovery, pay attorney fees awarded to defendants, respond to a motion for sanctions or appear at a hearing for sanctions. The actions constitute violations of Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, failing to provide competent representation; 1.3, failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; and 1.4(a), failure to keep a client reasonably informed.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote for the court that adopted the conditional agreement for discipline, a public reprimand. “The  parties cite the following facts in mitigation: (1) Respondent has no prior discipline; (2) Respondent has been  cooperative  with  the  (Disciplinary) Commission  and  has  been  remorseful;  (3)  during  the  period  of misconduct,  Respondent  was  in  the  midst  of  a  prolonged  custody  dispute;  (4)  Respondent has reached  out  to  Client  and  encouraged  him  to  consult  with  an  attorney  regarding  a  malpractice action against Respondent, and is willing to pay any malpractice judgment that might be entered; and  (5)  Respondent  has  attended  CLE  programs  and  consulted  with  other  practitioners  in  an effort to improve his practice management and skills.”

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