Attorney who threatened estranged wife with ax disbarred

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A Mishawka attorney convicted of felony intimidation after threatening to kill his wife with an ax has been disbarred.

The Indiana Supreme Court reached that disciplinary decision Thursday in the case of In the Matter of Fronse W. Smith, Jr., 71S00-1711-DI-707, which began when Smith was on the phone with his estranged wife and threatened to “split (her) chest open with an axe” in May 2015.  The wife called 911, while Smith continued to threaten her via text message and drove to her home.

Smith was attempting to enter the home when police arrived, at which point he told his wife, “Now you’ve really done it.” Police discovered an ax in Smith’s car, and he was arrested and charged with felony intimidation. Online court records show Smith was convicted in November 2015 and was given a one-year suspended sentence. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the Level 6 felony conviction in October 2016.

Smith’s law license has been under an interim suspension since December 2016. He was also indefinitely suspended in April 2017 for failure to cooperate with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission’s investigation against him, and was administratively suspended for failure to pay dues and meet CLE requirements.

The Indiana Supreme Court wrote in its Thursday per curiam opinion that Smith violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b) by “committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer.” Agreeing with Smith’s hearing officer that the incident represented “a total breakdown of self-restraint,” the justices agreed to disbar Smith, effective immediately.

“The circumstances of Respondent’s crime are profoundly troubling,” the justices wrote. “Respondent not only communicated to his wife a threat to murder her with an axe, he then immediately drove to her house with said axe and was in the process of entering her home when police arrived.”

“… We recognize that Respondent’s criminal conduct toward his estranged wife over the course of a single evening is distinguishable from the prolonged ‘scorched earth campaign’ committed by the attorney against his ex-girlfriend in (Matter of Keaton, 29 N.E.3d 103, 110 (Ind. 2015)), a distinction that prompted the hearing officer in this case to recommend a lengthy suspension rather than disbarment,” the court continued. “Nonetheless, the serious nature of Respondent’s misconduct, his resulting felony conviction, his noncooperation with the disciplinary process, and his failure to participate in these proceedings, collectively persuade a majority of this Court to conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction in this case.” The order did not indicate which justice or justices may have disagreed with disbarment.

Smith’s disbarment marks the second time in a week that the Surpeme Court has revoked an attorney’s law license. Former Anderson attorney Stephen Schuyler was disbarred Tuesday for misappropriating at least $550,000 from six supervised estates. Schuyler is currently serving an eight-year sentence for theft and other felony convictions related to his misconduct.

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