Breaking news and online updates of major legal stories were the most-read articles on TheIndianaLawyer.com in 2017, according to an analysis of pageviews. Here are the IL’s Top 20 most-read online stories through Dec. 15:
News that Magistrate Judge Denise K. LaRue died at age 59 after a battle with cancer was the year’s most-read story on the IL website, and follow-up coverage revealed the depth of loss that rocked the “federal court family” and those who knew her.
Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana said LaRue left “a legacy of compassionate insight into the problems faced by litigants in our court. … She had an unparalleled ability to identify their concerns, some of which had less to do with the law than with their personal circumstances.”
Readers flocked to IL’s breaking news reporting that February 2017 Indiana Bar Exam results sank to a historic low with just 48 percent passing. It was the first time in decades that fewer than 50 percent of test-takers passed, and a sharp decline from the 55 percent pass rate on the Indiana Bar in February 2016. Just 37 percent of repeat takers passed the bar.
Thousands followed the updates on who was in the running to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker. After the field of judges and lawyers was winnowed from 20 applicants to 11, and later to three, Wabash Superior Judge Christopher Goff eventually was appointed.
Breaking news on a fall morning that a 30-year fixture on the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana had died at 73 came as a shock after the recent death of Magistrate Judge Denise K. LaRue.
Breaking news that Valparaiso University Law School had admitted a first-year class of just 28 students — 73 percent fewer than 2016 — was a harbinger of the IL’s top story of 2017. Later in the year, Valpo announced it would accept no first-year students in 2018, and that its future was uncertain due to “severe financial challenges.”
An article documenting a cresting of Social Security disability claims and a decline in the number of recipients for the first time in decades proved popular. The story also examined the increasing difficulties of proving a claim for Social Security disability in administrative reviews and the increase in federal court reversals of benefit denials.
The resignation of Indianapolis attorney Deborah Agard was the most-read attorney discipline story in 2017. Agard resigned after allegations of thousands of dollars in missing client funds from her lawyer trust account following her voluntary admission to the Florida Recovery Center in Gainesville, Florida.
Readers following the judicial nomination process to replace retiring Justice Robert Rucker found out three judges were finalists — Clark Circuit Judge Vicki Carmichael, Wabash Superior Judge Christopher Goff and Boone Superior Judge Matthew Kincaid. Gov. Eric Holcomb ultimately selected Goff for his first appellate court appointment.
The trend of law firm mergers continued apace in 2017, with the news this fall that Indianapolis firm Bose McKinney & Evans LLP would absorb Roberge Law of Carmel. Additionally, Evansville-based Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn LLP completed its merger with Kentucky-based Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC in August.
In a follow-up article posted the same day news broke of Senior Judge Larry McKinney’s death, the longtime jurist was remembered by friends and colleagues as “a lawyer’s judge” with a quick wit; demanding but civil. “He was one of a kind,” Magistrate Judge Tim Baker said of McKinney. “People just loved him and are going to miss him terribly.”
An odd twist in the case of disgraced former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle caught the interest of IL readers. Fogle sought to attack his 15-year federal prison sentence imposed after his child pornography conviction with a pro se sovereign-citizen style jailhouse pleading. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt summarily rejected Fogle’s claim that the federal court had no jurisdiction over him.
Southern District Magistrate Judge Tim Baker used a formal opinion in a case where he called off a settlement conference because parties came unprepared. He used his order in the case to call out practitioners for “a continuing and troubling trend of ignoring Court-ordered deadlines and instructions.” Baker decried litigants who wasted judicial resources while the district court operated under a judicial emergency.
The Indiana Supreme Court suspended former LaPorte County deputy prosecutor Robert Neary after he was accused of eavesdropping on privileged communication between a criminal suspect and his lawyer. It is now up to the Indiana Supreme Court to decide whether prosecutorial misconduct in that case will spoil a criminal case against John Larkin, who had been charged in the shooting death of his wife.
A pass rate of 48 percent on the February Indiana Bar Exam sparked fresh discussion about why the rate was falling and whether the exam, the grading of the exam, or the ability of students to pass was a principal cause. Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan speculated the lower passage rate may be a new normal.
Lawyers and litigants increasingly are turning to crowdfunding to pay for filing suits or defending themselves in court. For instance, Common Cause Indiana used crowdjustice.com to raise money to file a lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP of Indiana challenging early voting in Marion County that consisted of just one polling place. Neighborhood and public-interest issues also are using the web to pass the digital hat to collect attorney fees.
After February 2017’s Indiana Bar Exam results found fewer than half passed the exam, a few lawyers talked to IL about their experience of failing, and later passing, the bar. The experience can take an emotional toll. But one attorney said there was a silver lining: “It made me be more open to people’s problems and what can occur. … It makes you be more empathic.”
An attorney was ordered to review the rules of professional conduct. Southern District Judge William T. Lawrence admonished a lawyer whose pleadings accused a magistrate judge of bias in handling a student disability lawsuit. Lawrence wrote that plaintiff’s counsel also had misunderstood or mischaracterized issues and had “come perilously close to crossing the line from vigorous (if misguided) advocacy to sanctionable conduct.”
The Indiana Supreme Court accepted the resignations of two attorneys in August — Elkhart attorney Anthony J. Iemma, and Richmond attorney Edward T. Kemp. Each faced investigations from the Disciplinary Commission and acknowledged they could not successfully defend themselves.
Suspended attorney Everett Powell of Indianapolis made false statements and submitted phony evidence in an effort to be reinstated to the practice of law. He was disbarred. The Indiana Supreme Court found that after he took an excessive share of a client’s special-needs trust for which he’d done little work, he later asked the client to sign a document falsely claiming that he had made full restitution.
Ex-attorney Timothy P. O’Connor was disbarred in 1990, but he nonetheless took a fee to represent a client in an expungement case 24 years later. After O’Connor was convicted of unauthorized practice of law in 2015, Justice Steven David wrote an order for the Indiana Supreme Court demanding that O’Connor reimburse the man’s $1,200 in fees or serve his 30-day suspended sentence.•