Federal court: Disbarred lawyer can’t seek judgeship

August 10, 2016

A disbarred Goshen lawyer who wanted to run for judge of Elkhart Circuit Court got nowhere trying to convince a federal judge he was wrongly denied the opportunity.

Joseph Lehman was disbarred in July for unauthorized practice of law following his suspension for two years in 2014 for violations including improperly managing his trust account, systemic negligence in representing clients, and  disclosing confidential information through the improper disposal of closed case files.

Lehman said his application to be placed on the ballot was rejected by the Indiana Election Commission because he failed to provide a file-stamped statement of economic interest by the deadline. He asked the federal court to order the commission to place his name on the November ballot as the Democratic Party’s candidate “as no one else is now on the ballot for that position.” Lehman also accused at least one Republican candidate in the May primary of being among a group of four lawyers he accused of “pocketting (sic) forfeited bail money.”

“Lehman wants to be placed on the ballot as the Democratic candidate for Elkhart Circuit Court judge. But, to borrow from General Sherman, if nominated Lehman cannot run, and if elected he cannot serve,” District Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen wrote in an order issued Monday in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division.

Van Bokkelen dismissed Lehman’s complaint as moot and denied his motion to proceed in his pro se complaint without pre-payment of fees and costs. He wrote that Lehman, who filed the complaint while he was suspended but before his disbarment, is ineligible to serve as a Circuit judge under Article 7, Section 7 of the Indiana Constitution, which requires a Circuit judge “shall have been duly admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of Indiana. …”

“Accordingly, Lehman can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief,” Van Bokkelen wrote in Joseph C. Lehman v. Individual members of the Indiana Electoral Commission, 3:16-CV-458. The judge dismissed the claim after screening for frivolousness or failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Elkhart attorney Michael Christofeno won a four-way Republican primary race for Circuit Court judge and will be the lone candidate on the November ballot. There were no Democratic candidates for the spot on the primary ballot, and the party slated no candidate prior to the deadline. Longtime Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker, a Republican who has been on the bench since 1998, did not seek re-election.


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