Florida-based attorney disbarred for 12 rule violations

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A Florida-based attorney who was found to have violated a dozen of Indiana’s professional conduct rules has lost his Indiana law license, effective immediately.

The Indiana Supreme Court disbarred North Fort Myers attorney Edward R. Hall on Thursday, more than one year after the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a three-count complaint against Hall in March 2017. Count 1 of the complaint relates to a parcel of land that was once owned by Hall but was later transferred to a land trust in 1995.

Hall’s girlfriend and Indiana legal secretary Laura Hanus was named the 100 percent beneficiary of the land trust, which became subject to a 2012 tax sale for nonpayment of property taxes. Hall represented the land trust in the subsequent legal proceedings, but his failure to comply with discovery prompted the Lake County auditor to move for sanctions and to disqualify Hall.

Both Hall and Hanus were subpoenaed to appear for a sanctions hearing in September 2014, but Hall falsely told his girlfriend that the hearing would not happen and she did not need to honor the subpoena. However, both parties complied with the subpoena after a magistrate called Hall’s law office and spoke with Hanus.

Count 2 against Hall alleges that while representing a manufacturer, known as Client 2, in an action against a seller and a rival, Hall accepted a $9,000 trailer as a retainer, then asked the client to pay an additional $5,0000. When Hall asked the client to pay an additional $5,000 six months later, the client indicated he could not pay, so Hall said he would convert an existing fee agreement to a contingency agreement. However, the agreement was never reduced to writing, so the percentage contemplated for Hall’s fee is unknown.

Meanwhile, Hall began failing to forward discovery requests to Client 2 and stopped responding to the client’s inquiries. He then did not timely inform the client of subsequent sanctions and an order to comply, nor did he inform the client of the dismissal of his suit and the order for the client to pay attorney fees. The defendant-seller sought to place a hold on Client 2’s bank account, but Hall advised the client not to worry.

While the original legal action was still pending, Hall represented Client 2 in a separate legal matter in which he took no action, leading to judgment against the client and another hold on his bank account. Hall lied to Client 2 about his actions in the second case, and the client eventually settled the matter on his own.

Client 2 then sued Hall for malpractice, and a $353,000 judgment was entered against the attorney after he failed to answer or appear for a default hearing. Hall relocated to Florida while the malpractice suit was pending, and he has not made any payments to Client 2 toward that judgment.

Finally, Count 3 alleges a client known as Client 3 hired Hall after another attorney failed to file a suit against a contractor and other defendants in connection with construction defects in the client’s home. Hall falsely told Client 3 that he had filed four cases on his behalf and that the case against the general contractor had gone to arbitration.

When Client 3 discovered Hall’s lies, he submitted a disciplinary grievance in March 2015, prompting Hall to file two suits on Client 3’s behalf. Hall then settled one of those suits without the client’s knowledge and failed to appear at a scheduled meeting with Client 3 related to the second suit. Judgment was ultimately entered in favor of the defendant in the second suit.

In light of all this, Hall was found to have violated 12 Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, including: Rule 1.2(a), Rule 1.3, Rule 1.4(a)(2), (3) and (4), Rule 1.4(b), Rule 1.5(c), Rule 1.8(a), Rule 3.4(c), Rule 4.4(a), and Rule 8.4(c) and (d).

Finding no mitigating factors but several aggravators — including prior discipline, with three disciplinary actions listed against Hall on the Roll of Attorneys — the justices determined in a Thursday per curiam opinion that disbarment was the appropriate sanction.

“In Count 1, Respondent disobeyed a subpoena and caused Hanus, his girlfriend and legal secretary, to do the same by lying to her, actions that placed both of them in legal peril,” the court wrote. “Respondent significantly neglected his representations of Clients 2 and 3, lied to both of them at multiple junctures, and during the pendency of the disciplinary investigation fabricated an email purportedly sent to Client 3.”

“Respondent’s dishonesty and neglect severely harmed Client 2 and led to a six-figure default judgment against Respondent for legal malpractice,” the court continued.

The justices further noted Hall is already under an order of suspension for failure to fulfill CLE requirements. His disbarment is effective immediately, and the costs of the proceeding are assessed against him.

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