Indianapolis attorney gets 2-year suspension for client neglect

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An Indianapolis attorney with a lengthy disciplinary history has once again been suspended from the practice of law, this time for at least two years after repeatedly neglecting client cases and keeping unearned funds. The discipline divided the Indiana Supreme Court, with two justices believing the attorney’s conduct warranted disbarment.

The most recent disciplinary action against Hilary Bowe Ricks, In the Matter of Hilary Bowe Ricks, 18S-DI-574, began on Nov. 20, when the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against Ricks, who had previously been suspended in August due to mental health concerns that interfered with client representation. According to a Monday disciplinary opinion, Ricks never responded to the November 2018 four-count complaint.

Count 1 of the November complaint alleges Ricks failed to file an expungement petition on behalf of “Client 1,” despite collecting a $691 upfront fee. After nearly four years, Ricks told Client 1 his case was “next on (her list).”

Client 1 filed a disciplinary grievance, and Ricks claimed she had not taken any action on his case because he had not paid sufficient fees. But the client had paid the full upfront amount Ricks asked for, and that money was never returned.

Similarly in Count 2, Ricks collected $8,500 for a post-conviction relief case but became unresponsive. A hearing on the PCR petition was set for December 2015, but Ricks obtained a continuance and failed to inform the client, leading to several of the client’s friends and family members taking off work and showing up at the cancelled hearing.

The attorney then failed to subpoena witnesses or arrange for her client’s transportation for the rescheduled hearing, and both she and her client failed to appear for the new hearing. Judgment was entered for the state on the merits, and Ricks did not refund the $5,000 she collected to litigate the case until a grievance was filed.

Count 3 also involves a failed PCR proceeding for which Ricks collected $8,500. But Ricks urged the client to file a pro se petition, and a public defender performed significant work on the case for which Ricks had been paid.

Ricks eventually appeared on behalf of Client 3 and the public defender withdrew, but she failed to follow through with an agreement with the state that would have allowed her to move to modify the client’s sentence. She then failed to appear for a hearing in the matter, so a public defender was again appointed.

The $4,500 she collected from Client 3 to litigate the PCR petition was not returned until the disciplinary commission began an investigation.

Finally, Client 4 hired Ricks to help with a sentence modification, for which she was paid $850 up front. As with the other cases, Count 4 shows Ricks became unresponsive and “did not appreciably advance the case.” She also did not timely refund her unearned fees.

All five justices agreed that Ricks’ actions violated seven Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct:

• Rule 1.3

• Rule 1.4(a)(3) and (4)

• Rule 1.4(b)

• Rule 1.16(d)

• Rule 8.1(b)

• Rule 8.4(d)

“Respondent’s multiple transgressions in this case are but the latest chapter in a lengthy history of shirking her professional duties toward clients, courts and the Commission,” the per curiam opinion reads. “Respondent has been suspended twice before for substantially similar conduct,” including the August 2018 suspension and Matter of Ricks, 835 N.E.2d 208 (Ind. 2005).

In a footnote, the justices said a petition to revoke Ricks’ 90-day probation in the 2018 matter is pending. The per curiam opinion also notes she has been held in contempt for failed to return appellate records and “has been barred from withdrawing further records in cases over which this Court has exercised jurisdiction.”

“The instant case — the third disciplinary prosecution against Respondent for the same type of systemic negligence that has characterized her career — makes clear that her professional shortcomings have not been remedied and in fact are growing worse,” the court wrote. “… The hearing officer succinctly summed up these aggravating factors and others in concluding that ‘Respondent cannot be safely recommended to the public as a lawyer who they can trust to handle their affairs.’”

The Indiana Roll of Attorneys shows Ricks has been the subject of eight formal disciplinary actions.

Ricks’ two-year suspension begins immediately on June 17. While all justices agreed with the misconduct findings, Justices Steven David and Geoffrey Slaughter dissented on the sanction, believing Ricks should be disbarred.

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