Man who replied “so what?” barred from unauthorized practice

A Lake County man who is not licensed to practice law in Indiana but who performed legal work for a friend in a family law matter has been permanently enjoined from continuing his unauthorized legal work.

The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously imposed the permanent injunction against Al Taylor on Thursday after the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a petition for an injunction in January. According to the Thursday order, Taylor drafted, filed and served documents on behalf of Deanna Vanston in a family law dispute with Mark Vanston. Online court records for the trial court case, Deanna Vanston v. Mark Vanston, 45A04-1702-DR-00228 — an offshoot of the 2007 case In Re: The Marriage of Deanna M. Vanston and Mark H. Vanston, 45D03-0709-DR-000920 — list Deanna as a pro se litigant.

In addition to the case in Lake Superior Court, Taylor also drafted, filed and served documents on Deanna’s behalf at the Court of Appeals in Deanna Vanston v. Mark Vanston, 45A04-1702-DR-00228, which was dismissed in September 2017 for defects in the appellant’s brief. Taylor also sent Deanna a letter in which he provided legal advice and filed an affidavit in the appellate court stating he had “been hired by Ms. Vanston to do research, mail and file various pleadings, documents, letters, etc. as needed and requested.”

Aside from his unauthorized practice of law, the justices also identified shortcomings in Taylor’s return filed in response to the commission’s petition. The return was not verified, nor did it specifically deny or admit the allegations against him.

“But it appears Taylor denies drafting the documents in question — he admits (by stating ‘so what’) only that he filed and served at least some of them,” the court wrote in the order signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush. “He says the Verified Petition’s wording ‘twist(s) the truth’ about the affidavit he submitted to the Court of Appeals, but he does not deny submitting it. And he says he ‘does not recall’ the letter that allegedly gave Vanston legal advice.”

Taylor also noted in his return that he was not paid, but instead was helping a friend “based upon one’s own life experiences and ups and downs” in a matter that did not require attorney supervision. He also submitted an affidavit from Vanston, who said Taylor helped her complete research and deliver documents, but did not give legal advice.

Though the court did not give weight to Taylor’s unverified return, it did give weight to Vanston’s testimony that Taylor did not provide legal advice.

“But it is clear from the record — because Taylor himself declared it under oath to the Court of Appeals, and Vanston likewise declares it here — that Taylor performed legal research on Vanston’s behalf without an attorney’s supervision,” the court said. “Under these circumstances, legal research is practicing law.”

“… Since Taylor acknowledges one form of unauthorized practice, we need not determine from this limited record to extent to which he also authored the documents he filed and served for Vanston — even though that, too, would constitute unauthorized practice,” the court continued.

In imposing the permanent injunction, the justices noted that Taylor is not precluded from seeking employment at a law firm or with a lawyer as a non-lawyer assistant. However, he must do so in a way that does not violate the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct or Guideline 9 for the use of non-lawyer assistants.

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