COA: Lawyer’s undiscovered fraud wouldn’t have changed guilty plea

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a decision that found an attorney’s alleged misconduct would not have resulted in a different outcome of a man’s guilty plea for health care fraud.

In Feb. 2017, Michael Goodwin sued his former attorney, David DeBoer, for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent concealment after Goodwin pleaded guilty in a federal criminal action for alleged Medicaid fraud in Texas.

Goodwin also hired then-Indiana attorney Clark Holesinger to represent him in the fraud case, and Goodwin pleaded guilty to one count of healthcare fraud. Two years after Goodwin was sentenced to 50 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Holesinger pleaded guilty to wire fraud and theft from a pattern of stealing and embezzling from several of his clients. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2015.

Had he known of Holesinger’s conduct, Goodwin argued that he would not have pleaded guilty.

Goodwin moved to have his guilty plea set aside on the basis that Holesinger had rendered ineffective assistance, contending Holesinger stole $380,000 from Goodwin during his representation.

In June 2016, DeBoer sent a draft statement concerning the motion for the court on Goodwin’s behalf. The statement included that during visits to Holesinger’s office, DeBoer “overheard Holesinger’s portions of phone conversations cutting deals with bankers in charge of Goodwin’s holdings,” as well as other observations about his conduct in Goodwin’s case.

The district court ultimately denied Goodwin’s motion. Goodwin then sued DeBoer, alleging he had breached his duty of care to Goodwin when:

• During visits to Clark Holesinger’s office, [DeBoer] “overheard Holesinger’s portions of phone conversations cutting deals with bankers in charge of Goodwin’s holdings.”

• [DeBoer] was aware [Goodwin] owned a stylish RV that was pursued by the government. [DeBoer] believes “Holesinger sold the RV for cash … before it was seized.”

• [DeBoer] observed “Clark Holesinger appeared more motivated and energized to work on the civil/financial aspects of the government’s case than the criminal case proper.”

Because of DeBoer’s alleged actions, Goodwin claimed he “was unable to make an informed decision regarding the outcome of his case” and he “would not have pleaded guilty.”

However, the Lake Superior Court granted summary judgment in DeBoer’s favor, which the appeals court affirmed Tuesday in Michael D. Goodwin v. David L. DeBoer, 18A-CT-514.

In its decision, the appellate court found that the district court had already heard and found that Goodwin had failed to show that Holesinger had rendered ineffective assistance to Goodwin with respect to Holesinger’s misappropriation of funds. Therefore, the district court’s judgment in both respects precluded Goodwin from relitigating the issue.

“Thus, the designated evidence demonstrates as a matter of law that Goodwin cannot show that DeBoer’s alleged misconduct would have resulted in a different outcome. DeBoer’s alleged misconduct is simply a failure to inform Goodwin of Holesinger’s misconduct…” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the court. “Goodwin’s claim against DeBoer is derivative of his claim against Holesinger. Because his claim against Holesinger has been adjudicated, his collateral claim against DeBoer must also fail.”

“In sum, the designated evidence shows that no genuine issue of material fact exists on the question of proximate causation, which underlies each of Goodwin’s claims against DeBoer,” Najam concluded. “Thus, DeBoer is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and we affirm the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for DeBoer accordingly.”

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