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District court declines to stop Supreme Court disciplinary hearing

January 24, 2017

A federal judge has declined to intervene in an Indiana Supreme Court disciplinary proceeding against a northern Indiana attorney who claims he is being discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed without prejudice Andrew Straw’s motion for a preliminary injunction against his disciplinary action Monday in Andrew U.D. Straw v. Indiana Supreme Court, et al, 1:16-cv-03483. The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission currently has a case pending against Straw, alleging four violations of Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.1.

Jasper Superior Judge James Ahler, who was the hearing officer in Straw’s discipline case, found that Straw had filed four frivolous lawsuits – Straw v. Kloecker, Straw v. ABA, Straw v. Sconiers and Rutherford v. Zalas – in violation of Rule 3.1. In each case, Straw, who says he has bipolar disorder and other mental and physical disabilities, claimed he was filing the litigation to champion the cause of disability rights for himself and other disabled people.

In a complaint filed in district court on Dec. 25, Straw argued that the Indiana Supreme Court and several of its employees have repeatedly discriminated against him because of his disabilities, dating back to a 2002 car accident in which he sustained injuries on the way to his former job at the Supreme Court.

Straw, who works as a disability rights attorney in northern Indiana, claims the disciplinary action was a retaliatory measure after he filed a complaint against Brenda Rodeheffer, the court’s ADA administrator. But in his findings, Ahler wrote that Straw displays “either, at worst, a disregard for proper legal procedures or, at best, incompetence.”

In his motion for a preliminary injunction, Straw requested that the district court “stop the Indiana Supreme Court from disciplining (him).” In response, the Supreme Court, represented by the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, argued that the district court should abstain from exercising subject matter jurisdiction under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).

Younger holds that federal courts should not interfere with state proceedings that are judicial in nature, involve important state interests, provide an adequate opportunity to raise federal claims and do not contain special circumstances that would make abstention inappropriate. Straw ignored the Younger argument in his reply briefs, and Magnus-Stinson wrote in her Monday order that there were no special circumstances that would make her court’s abstention inappropriate.

"Because  the  Court  has  found  that  the Younger abstention doctrine applies, the Court DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Mr. Straw’s claims to the extent he asks this Court to intervene in or review the disciplinary proceedings currently pending against him before the Indiana Supreme Court," she wrote.

The chief judge did grant Straw’s motion for leave to file a supplemental reply brief, but noted that in future proceedings, supplements will not be allowed and he would have only one chance to submit any filing.

Magnus-Stinson also ordered Straw to show cause by Feb. 3 as to why final judgment should not be entered and the case closed.

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