Attorney in counterfeit scheme suspended for 3 years

December 19, 2017

A Bloomington attorney convicted of engaging in a counterfeit scheme to steal $10,000 from a client has been suspended from the practice of law for three years without automatic reinstatement.

The attorney, Philip Chamberlain, accessed the stolen money after a client sought legal advice on investing in rental properties. Chamberlain suggested the client loan Chamberlain and other parties money to develop a golf course and build a home in Lawrence County, then forged an endorsement on a check made to a third party and kept $10,000 for himself. 

Chamberlain eventually pleaded guilty to counterfeiting and was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution, later lowered to $10,000. However, only $200 has been paid thus far.

After Chamberlain’s conviction and sentence to community service, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a Notice of Finding of Guilt in March 2013, and Chamberlain was indefinitely suspended on an interim basis the following June. A disciplinary action was then filed in October 2013, but the disciplinary proceedings were stayed at Chamberlain’s request while he sought resolution of certain proceedings in his criminal case.

The stay was lifted in November 2016, and a hearing officer’s report was filed in September. All parties agreed that Chamberlain violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b) and (c), and the Indiana Supreme Court agreed with those findings in the justices’ per curiam opinion.  

Though he admitted to the violations, Chamberlain petitioned for review to challenge the finding of aggravating factors and the rejection of two of his proffered mitigating factors. Specifically, he challenged the aggravating factors related to his victim’s vulnerability and his alleged refusal to acknowledge the wrongfulness of his conduct and indifference to making restitution.

But the justices wrote there was ample support for those aggravating factors, including Chamberlain’s own testimony that his victim was a broken man and his multiple collateral attacks against his conviction. Additionally, Chamberlain’s continued failure to pay restitution, even though he has the ability, to supports the aggravating factor related to his failure to pay, the justices said.

Chamberlain also argued his hearing officer should have found two mitigating factors not already credited to him: his engagement in a “timely good faith effort to make restitution,” and the delay between his misconduct and the resolution of the disciplinary case. But because he has thus far failed to make full restitution and requested a stay in the proceedings just two weeks prior to a scheduled final hearing in the disciplinary proceeding, those mitigators cannot be credited to him, the court said.

As a sanction, the high court imposed a three-year suspension without automatic reinstatement, effective immediately. Chamberlain can petition for reinstatement at the end of the three-year period if he pays the costs of the proceedings, which are assessed against him, fulfills the duties of a suspended attorney and satisfies the requirements for reinstatement under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(18). His reinstatement would also be contingent upon proof that restitution has been paid in full.

The case is In the Matter Of: Philip H. Chamberlain, 53S00-1303-DI-191.


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