A Terre Haute attorney who stole prescription drugs from a client’s girlfriend has been suspended from the practice of law in Indiana for at least a month and has been ordered to begin a Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program monitoring agreement.
From 2013 to 2016, attorney John H.N. Claussen continually mismanaged his lawyer trust account, commingling client and personal funds and making multiple transfers out of the account, which was overdrawn several times. Meanwhile, Claussen was hired to represent a client in a divorce and, as part of his representation, agreed to meet the client and the client’s girlfriend at their home.
When Claussen arrived at the home, he asked the girlfriend for her Adderall prescription, then took one of her pills without her permission. He then took the pill bottle and left the home, all before his client arrived.
As a result of his misconduct, Claussen and the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission agreed he violated five professional conduct rules, including:
- Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15(a);
- Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) and (c), and;
- Indiana Admission and Discipline Rules (2016) 23(29)(a)(4) and (5).
The parties and the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to a 90-day suspension, with 30 days served and 60 days stayed subject to the completion of two years of probation, effective Sept. 6. Claussen must also adhere to several probation guidelines, including:
- Executing and complying with a JLAP monitoring agreement;
- Hiring a CPA to report to the commission quarterly;
- Refraining from the use of mind-altering substances, except as prescribed;
- Cooperating fully with the commission, and;
- Promptly reporting any probation violations to the commission.
If Claussen violates any of the conditions of his probation, a published order handed down Thursday stipulates that the commission will petition to revoke his probation, which could lead to Claussen serving the balance of his 90-day suspension without automatic reinstatement. The probationary period has a two-year minimum, but the court said Claussen’s probation “shall remain in effect until it is terminated pursuant to a petition to terminate probation filed under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(16).”
The costs of the proceedings in the case of In the Matter of: John H.N. Claussen, Respondent, 84S00-1703-DI-122, were assessed against him.
Also on Thursday, the high court issued a public reprimand against Robert Cheesebourough in In the Matter of: Robert Cheesebourough, Respondent, 18S-DI-37. In that case, the Indianapolis attorney was hired to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy for a client for a $650 flat fee.
Throughout the proceedings, Cheesebourough failed to attend a mandatory creditors’ meeting. The client’s debt was eventually discharged in May 2016, but Cheesebourough failed to address an issue with part of the client’s Social Security number being transposed on the petition before the estate was closed.
Next, the client paid Cheesebourough $200 to initiate a filing to avoid liens on the client’s home and rental property. Cheesebourough filed the motion, but then failed to submit an order to the bankruptcy court. He also failed to file a motion to avoid judicial lien against other creditors.
The bankruptcy court ordered the estate fully administered in October 2016, and when the client reached out to Cheesebourough for an update, he received no response. The client eventually hired new counsel and filed a grievance against Cheesebourough, who did not timely respond to the commission.
In the Thursday order, Cheesebourough and the commission agreed he violated Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4(a)(3) and 8.1(b). All parties and the Supreme Court agreed that a public reprimand was the appropriate discipline, and the costs of the proceedings are assessed against Cheesebourough.