Fishers attorney gets stayed suspension for professional misconduct

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Indiana Supreme Court justices have issued a 60-day stayed suspension for a Fishers attorney who acknowledged he failed to properly represent a client in a divorce case and mishandled another client’s workplace sexual harassment claim.

Both the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and attorney Cody Cogswell submitted for approval a statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline. The Supreme Court in a Tuesday order suspended Cogswell from the practice of law for 60 days, beginning April 7, all stayed subject to completion of at least 12 months of probation in In the Matter of: Cody P. Cogswell, 19S-DI-135.

In Count 1, Cogswell represented Client 1 in a divorce where the parties’ mediated property settlement agreement that was incorporated into the dissolution decree divided the husband’s military pension retirement benefit. That agreement required Cogswell to prepare the required papers, with Client 1’s husband ordered in the interim to make monthly payments directly to her. It also required the husband to make equalization payments in several installments.

After more than six months passed, Cogswell had not prepared the documents needed to effectuate Client 1’s share of the husband’s retirement benefit, and the husband stopped making the monthly payments to Client 1. Husband also failed to timely make a $15,000 installment payment, and Client 1 attempted repeatedly and unsuccessfully to contact Cogswell about the status of her case, the order says.

Cogswell eventually met with Client 1 and promised to complete the retirement paperwork and take action to have the husband held in contempt for failing to make the installment payment. However, the order says Cogswell did not take any further action to have the husband held in contempt.

When Client 1 tried to advance her case with various pro se filings, the court referred those filings to Cogswell and directed him to file an appropriate pleading before the court would take any action. According to the order, Cogswell did not confer with Client 1 about these developments or otherwise take any action, which left Client 1 unclear why her requests for relief had not been successful.

In Count 2, Cogswell represented “Client 2” in connection with a workplace sexual harassment matter, but turned over primary handling of the matter to his paralegal, J.B. In November 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Client 2 a right to sue notice. Client 2’s federal law claims were required to be filed within 90 days of receipt of this notice, and the statute of limitation for any state law claims arising from the workplace sexual harassment was two years from the date of occurrences.

According to the order, Client 2 contacted JB to confirm whether a lawsuit had been filed, and JB falsely told Client 2 that it had. Cogswell did not communicate with Client 2 and did not adequately supervise JB’s communications with Client 2. The order says Cogswell also failed to file a lawsuit until after the relevant deadlines for state and federal law claims had passed, resulting in the eventual dismissal of all of Client 2’s claims as untimely.

After the events in Count 2, the order says Cogswell fired JB and paid $15,000 in damages to Client 2 through his malpractice insurance carrier.

Cogswell has no prior disciplinary actions against him, the justices said in its order, but concluded that he violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.3, 1.4(a)(3), 1.4(a)(4), 1.4(b), 3.4(c), 5.3(b).

The Court incorporates by reference the terms and conditions of probation set forth in the parties’ Conditional Agreement, which include:

(1) Respondent shall have no violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Admission and Discipline Rules during his probation.

(2) Respondent shall attend a six-hour applied professionalism course during his probation.

(3) Respondent will read “Fundamentals of Law Office Management: Systems, Procedures and Ethics, 5th Ed.,” and will certify same by providing a chapter-by-chapter summary to the Commission.

(4) If Respondent violates the terms of his probation, the stay of his suspension may be vacated and the balance of the stayed suspension may be actively served with or without automatic reinstatement,” the order says.

Cogswell’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 proceeding are assessed against him and Cogswell is ordered to pay $297.95 by check to the Clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court.

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