An Indianapolis attorney charged with making false statements and submitting false evidence to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission in an attempt to be reinstated to the practice of law has instead been disbarred.
After T.G., assisted by another attorney, obtained a settlement of a personal injury action, she established a special needs trust in 2004 to hold the settlement proceeds and prevent rapid depletion by T.G., who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, or others not acting in her best interest. Later that year, T.G. asked Indianapolis attorney Everett Powell to help her get access to the trust funds.
Powell agreed to take the case for a fee of one-third of the trust, and “after expending only minimal work,” became successor trustee and disbursed $30,000 to T.G. and $15,000 to himself. As a result of that conduct, Powell was suspended from the practice of law in Indiana for 120 days without automatic reinstatement in 2011.
After receiving the funds, T.G.’s share was quickly spent on drugs and expenditures for T.G.’s partner and his family. Powell was initially denied reinstatement, then denied again in March 2014 for various reasons, including failure to make restitution to T.G.
Powell then drove to Iowa, where he met with T.G. and asked her to sign a document stating he had given her $15,000, yet only paid her $1,500. T.G. signed the document, and Powell told her she would not get in trouble for signing, but that she should not say anything if anyone from Indiana called with questions.
When she realized she had been taken advantage of, T.G. called the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. Meanwhile, Powell filed a third reinstatement petition and sent a letter to the commission, falsely claiming he had made full restitution and submitting the falsified document.
When the commission served a notice of deposition on T.G., Powell moved to withdraw his petition, but the commission proceeded with T.G.’s deposition. The commission ultimately charged him with violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 3.3(a)(1), 3.4(b) and 8.4(c).
Powell gave an unsworn statement challenging T.G.’s credibility and claiming he gave her $15,000 in cash, yet declined to testify. A hearing officer report filed in December 2016 concluded Powell had violated the rules as charged and recommended he be disbarred.
The Indiana Supreme Court agreed and disbarred the Indianapolis attorney in a Wednesday opinion, effective immediately.
In its opinion, the court rejected Powell’s argument that his false statements were attributable to his counsel. The predicate false fact was supplied by Powell, the court said, and even had it been the fault of his attorney, Rule 3.3(a)(1) imposes a duty on attorneys to correct any false statements previously made.
Similarly, “the act of falsifying a document need not occur contemporaneously with its tender as evidence…in order for a violation of Rule 3.4(b) to occur,” the justices said. Further, the hearing officer in the case adjudged evidence of a Rule 8.4(c) violation as credible, and Powell declined to offer any counter-evidence on his behalf, the court said.
Finally, the high court said the admittance of T.G.’s videotaped deposition as evidence was not precluded under Trail Rule 32(A)(3) or Evidence Rule 804(b)(1). Thus, because Powell’s reinstatement proceedings “brought to light numerous additional uncharged instances of misconduct committed in the wake of our prior suspension order,” his conduct warrants disbarment, the justices wrote in the per curiam opinion.
“The grounds for the instant charges – Respondent’s elaborate scheme to convince to Commission and this Court that he had made full restitution to T.G. when in fact he had not – are but the culmination of a years-long endeavor to game the system,” the opinion states. “That endeavor ends today.”