Crown Point attorney suspended after cases delegated to son were neglected

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Steven A. Johnson, a Crown Point mediation and labor attorney, has been suspended from the practice of law in Indiana after two cases he handed off to his son resulted in two five-figure sanctions and a default judgment of $1.8 million against his client due to negligence.

Discipline was ordered in In the Matter of: Steven A. Johnson, 21S-DI-211, after Johnson was found to have violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.3: Failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; 1.4(a)(3): Failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter; 1.4(a)(4): Failing to comply promptly with a client’s reasonable requests for information; and 1.4(b): Failing to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions.

According to Thursday’s order, Steven Johnson and his son, Arthur C. Johnson, were partners at the time and represented a transportation company in two separate matters — a breach of contract action and a labor dispute.

Arthur Johnson is a former Merrillville attorney who resigned from the Indiana bar in 2021 after facing a disciplinary action for allegedly engaging in a scheme to falsify a notice that the court’s electronic filing system had malfunctioned to cover up his failure to timely submit a filing. He was alleged to have violated seven rules of professional conduct, and had previously faced $33,252.36 in sanctions from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in July 2019.

In the May 5 order, it states the transportation company client’s CEO, Danette Garza, was the sole point of contact with the law firm. The order says Steven Johnson led Garza to believe that he would have primary responsibility for the two matters and that Arthur Johnson would assist him in those cases.

However, after some initial activity in the breach of contract action, Steven Johnson delegated all internal responsibility to his son and stepped away from the matter entirely.

The recent order says that Arthur Johnson wholly neglected the breach of contract matter, which resulted in a series of adverse rulings. Specifically, Arthur was largely nonresponsive to Garza’s inquiries and, when he did respond, misrepresented the status of the case.

Steven Johnson was also nonresponsive to Garza’s inquiries.

Due to their neglect, the breach of contract action resulted in two five-figure sanction awards and a $1.8 million default judgment against the client. According to the high court’s order, the client only first learned about the judgment when its bank account was seized during garnishment proceedings.

Successor counsel later appeared for the client and moved to set aside the default judgment based on the Johnsons’ neglect.

Meanwhile, a similar sequence of events unfolded in the clients’ labor dispute. Steven Johnson, again, internally delegated the matter to his son without informing Garza. Arthur proceeded to wholly neglect the matter and both he and his father remained largely nonresponsive to Garza’s inquiries.

“Respondent knew of Arthur’s failure to timely file an answer, noncompliance with discovery, and a resulting order to show cause; yet Respondent did not increase his attention to the case or take any remedial steps,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in the order. “Successor counsel appeared for Client at the show cause hearing and thereafter worked to comply with the pending discovery orders, and Respondent subsequently withdrew his appearance.”

The Indiana Supreme Court agreed to suspend Steven Johnson for 30 days beginning on June 20. He is prohibited from taking on any new legal matters between the service of the May 5 order and the effective date of his suspension and shall also fulfill all the duties of a suspended attorney under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(26).

Once the suspension period is up, provided there are no other suspensions in effect, Steven Johnson shall be automatically reinstated to the practice of law, subject to the conditions of Admission and Discipline Rule 23(18)(a). The costs of the proceedings are assessed against him.

Steven Johnson, who was admitted to the bar in 1975, has previously faced a “private reprimand” in a 1995 attorney discipline action, according to court records.

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