Supreme Court disbars attorney for committing a dozen conduct violations

August 31, 2017

A Rockville attorney accused of a dozen professional conduct violations for mismanaging his trust account and disobeying a court order has been disbarred.

The Indiana Supreme Court reached that decision Thursday in the disciplinary action, In the Matter of: John Downey Pierce, 61S00-1703-DI, 153. The complaint filed by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission alleges in September 2015, Rockville attorney John Downey Pierce commingled personal and client funds in his trust account and wrote three checks from that account for personal expenses, resulting in an overdraft. After the commission began an investigation into the matter, Pierce produced false documents that failed to adequately reflect deposits or transactions from the account.

The complaint also alleges Pierce failed to appear in court for his clients’ uncontested adoption hearing, and failed to complete related paperwork. The judge in the case ordered a show cause hearing, which Pierce failed to appear at, prompting the judge to file a grievance with the commission.

Finally, the complaint alleges Pierce failed to respond to the commission with respect to another grievance, which led to the initiation of show cause proceedings. Pierce also never responded to the full disciplinary complaint filed against him.

The hearing officer in Pierce’s case found his disciplinary history – which includes five completed and one pending action, according to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys – his selfish motive, his multiple offenses and his failure to acknowledge the wrongfulness of his action as aggravating factors, among others. The Indiana Supreme Court agreed and found Pierce in violation of 12 professional conduct and discipline rules.

Specifically, the high court found Pierce – who is already under indefinite suspension – to be in violation of Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.3; 1.15(a); 3.2; 3.4(c); 8.1(a) and (b); and 8.4(a) – (d), as well as Indiana Admission and Discipline Rules 23(29)(a)(3) and (4).

“We have disbarred other attorneys who have demonstrated similar unfitness to be entrusted with the responsibilities that accompany a license to practice law in this state,” the per curiam opinion says. “We acknowledge that Respondent may not have stolen as much money as some other disbarred attorneys, or been as pervasively dishonest or neglectful, but this offers faint praise. The nature of Respondent’s misconduct, coupled with his serial noncooperation and his failure to participate in these proceedings, persuade us that disbarment is the appropriate sanction here, as well.”

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justices Steve David and Christopher Goff concurred with the sanction of disbarment, but Justices Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter dissented from that sanction. While they agreed with the findings, the dissenting justices would impose a three-year suspension without automatic reinstatement.

The costs of the proceedings are also assessed against Pierce.


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