Lawyer charged with theft from clients also faces discipline

An attorney facing felony theft charges in Lake County for allegedly stealing money from her clients is being investigated by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission for similar conduct.

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Ruth Ann Batey, a Chicago attorney who practices in Gary, was arrested last month and charged with Level 5 felony theft. Indiana State Police said in a news release that an investigation into Batey began in January, when the Gary Police Department asked the state police to investigate Batey’s alleged theft of money from two of her clients, who were Gary Police employees.

According to a report from the Times of Northwest Indiana, Batey was hired to represent Shane and Robin Bolde, Gary police officers who signed a power of attorney for Batey to represent them in their personal injury case. Shane Bolde was in a traffic accident while on duty in March 2014 and retained Batey as counsel after the accident, according to the Times.

An $80,000 settlement check from Farm Bureau Insurance was made payable to the Boldes and Batey on July 9, 2014, but the couple did not learn about the settlement money until one year later. By that point, the check had already been signed by Batey and was deposited in her IOLTA account, the Times reported.

Additionally, the NWI Times report said a second check for $8,750 from Farm Bureau General Insurance of Michigan was also cashed and deposited into Batey’s business account. None of the money received on behalf of the Boldes was ever disbursed to them, the report says.

Though Batey’s recent arrest marks the first time she has faced criminal charges for withholding client funds, the attorney is also currently facing disciplinary action filed in December for similar conduct with another client.

In July 2013, Michael Dawson hired Batey to represent him in his personal injury case, and a month later, American Family Insurance Group awarded partial medical expenses coverage to Dawson in the amount of $1,036, according to a disciplinary complaint filed against Batey. The funds were deposited into Batey’s trust account in September 2013, the same month Dawson fired her and hired Donald Wruck.

In the summer of 2015, Wruck asked Batey about the whereabouts of Dawson’s funds, but received no information, the complaint says. Information on the money was not made available until the following September, after Wruck filed a request for investigation with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. Batey eventually disbursed the funds to Dawson in November 2015 by means of two money orders – one for $1,000, and the other for $36.

However, the disciplinary complaint alleges that the money used to disburse Dawson’s settlement may have represented a co-mingling of Batey’s personal and professional funds, a violation of attorney conduct rules. Specifically, the complaint alleges Batey deposited her own money into her trust account, then made online and electronic withdrawals without written authorization.

For example, in December 2015, records show Batey withdrew $133 from her trust account to pay DirecTV, then withdrew $339 to pay her utility bills in February 2016. In total, trust account records show 129 online/electronic transfers from August 2013 through July 2016, each without written authorization.

Further, during the fall of 2015, the complaint says Batey misappropriated client funds by making several disbursements from the trust account that were not related to Dawson’s case, including various deposits and withdrawals that left the account with a zero balance by the end of October 2015.

“The Respondent’s bank records show NO withdrawals of any sum of money close to the $1036 owed to Dawson and thereby paid via money order in the Respondent’s trust account at or close to the time of disbursement to Wruck’s assistant for Dawson,” the complaint alleges.

But Batey’s misconduct issues didn’t end there, the complaint shows, as she is then accused of misrepresenting the status of the disciplinary action to JPMorgan Chase Bank, which held her trust account. The disciplinary commission subpoenaed Batey and requested all trust account information for her practice, then also subpoenaed the account’s bank statements from JPMorgan.

Though Batey was responsive to the requests for her trust information, she contacted the bank in August 2016 and told employees the investigation had been dismissed, so it no longer needed to supply the subpoenaed records. JPMorgan later learned the investigation was not dismissed and complied with the subpoena request.

In all, Batey is alleged to have violated a slew of attorney conduct rules, including Professional Conduct Rules 1.4(a)(4) and 1.15(d) for her failure to promptly reply to Dawson and disburse his funds, Rule 1.15(a) and Admission and Discipline Rule 23, Section 29(a)(4) for comingling funds, Discipline Rule 23, Section 29(a)(5) for making unauthorized withdrawals, and Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c) for misrepresenting the status of the investigation to the bank. Additionally, Batey’s interference with the commission’s subpoena power is an alleged violation of RPC 8.4(d).

An evidentiary hearing in the case of In The Matter of Ruth Ann Batey, 98S00-1612-DI-633 is scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11, said Indianapolis attorney Don Lundberg, who has filed an appearance as Batey’s counsel in the disciplinary action.

Batey’s online disciplinary record shows the hearing will be held in the Lake County Superior Courthouse in Hammond before Lake Superior Judge William Davis, who has been appointed as hearing officer in the matter. Lundberg said he was not in a position to comment on Batey’s criminal charges.

A news release from the Indiana State Police shows Batey was initially booked on a $20,000 bond, plus an additional $500 bond on a civil warrant that was discovered after her arrest. Batey was released June 19 from the Lake County Jail after paying a cash bond of $500. A message seeking comment left at the number listed for her in the Indiana Roll of Attorneys was not returned. The Roll of Attorneys lists Batey as active in good standing, and the disciplinary action is shown as pending.

Edward W. Hearn, who is listed online as Batey’s counsel in the criminal case, did not respond to a request for comment.

Batey’s initial hearing was July 7 in her criminal case, 45G04-1706-F5-00057, and an ominbus hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30 before Judge Samuel L. Cappas in Lake Superior Court, criminal division, in Crown Point.•

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