Supreme Court suspends disability rights attorney, rejects discrimination allegations

An attorney who claims the Indiana Supreme Court is seeking retaliatory action against him because of his work as a disability rights advocate has been suspended from the practice of law.

In a Tuesday disciplinary order, the state’s highest court suspended Schaumburg, Illionis, attorney Andrew U.D. Straw for 180 days without automatic reinstatement after finding that he violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 3.1 on four different occasions. Straw’s disciplinary action began in 2016, when Judge James Ahler, the hearing officer in the case, found that Straw had violated Rule 3.1 by filing four “frivolous” lawsuits.

In each of the suits – Straw v. Kloecker, Straw v. American Bar Association, et al., Straw v. Sconiers and Rutherford v. Zalas  –  Straw contended that he was advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, including himself. The attorney said he contracted scoliosis and bipolar disorder from his time spent as a child at Camp LeJeune, where his father was stationed as a Marine during the Vietnam War.

Rule 3.1 prohibits an attorney from bringing a proceeding without a basis in law for doing so. Ahler recommended that Straw be suspended without automatic reinstatement for his violations of the rule, but Straw filed a federal lawsuit to bar the high court from imposing disciplinary sanctions against him, arguing that the disciplinary complaint was filed only because he spoke out against what he perceived as disability discrimination by the court. Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed without prejudice Straw’s case against the Supreme Court last month.

“Further, we categorically reject respondent’s arguments that he is being persecuted for his disability-related advocacy,” the Supreme Court order reads. “A necessary corollary of the frivolousness of Respondent’s lawsuits is that no relief benefitting the plaintiffs (whether a client or Respondent himself) possibly could have come from those actions.”

“Further, Respondent’s actions risked harm to himself and his client in the form of sanctions, and by Respondent’s own acknowledgment the relief he sought in Straw v. American Bar Association, et al., could have led to discrimination against disabled law school faculty,” the order continues. “In sum, Respondent does not face discipline for standing up for disabled persons’ rights, as he perceives, but rather for having done so incompetently.”

Straw will be eligible to petition for reinstatement after 180 days, and his petition can be granted if he proves his remorse, rehabilitation and fitness to practice law. The costs of the proceedings are assessed against him.

All justices concurred except Justice Steve David, who believes the sanction is insufficient.

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