Suspended attorney’s UPL convictions upheld

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a suspended Elkhart attorney’s convictions of practicing law by a non-attorney after ruling there is sufficient evidence he continued to provide legal work after he was disciplined by the Indiana Supreme Court two years ago.

Joseph Lehman was suspended in February 2014 for at least two years for failing to appear at numerous hearings in cases and even being jailed for contempt for not appearing. The state charged him with three counts of the Class B misdemeanors after he continued to work on a divorce case after his suspension took effect, accepted a consulting fee from a new client on a divorce case, and helped a previous client re-title real estate. Lehman never informed these three people that he was suspended and could not practice law, although he did tell one client that he couldn’t help her in court because he’s not “supposed to go to court,” but offered to complete her paperwork for her divorce.

Before trial, Lehman filed for a change of judge from Elkhart Superior Judge David Bonfiglio, but the request was denied. He also challenged the denial of his request for a jury trial and the evidence used to convict him.

Judge Cale Bradford noted that Lehman’s change of judge affidavit is not rooted in historical facts and creates no rational inference of bias. He said the judge said many years ago that he had “no pleasant experiences” with Lehman based on his practices in requesting a continuance, but that doesn’t indicate bias, Bradford wrote. He also pointed out that Lehman himself said in the affidavit he doesn’t know Bonfiglio personally or socially and “my perceptions might be incorrect.”

Regarding his request for a jury trial, Lehman was required to file that request by April 12, 2015, based on his omnibus date, but he waited until April 22 to file. Thus, he waived his right to a jury trial and his ignorance regarding what his deadline to file was is “no excuse,” Bradford noted.

Finally, there was sufficient evidence to support the three convictions. Lehman continued to correspond with an attorney on a divorce case after his suspension. He met with a new client and claimed he could file her paperwork in her divorce and did not inform her of his suspension. He also never told his client that he was suspended when he prepared the quitclaim deed. All of these actions constituted unauthorized practice of law, the appeals court held.

The case is Joseph C. Lehman v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1511-CR-1963.

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