An Indianapolis attorney who converted his only employee’s Social Security withholdings for his own personal use for more than a decade has been disbarred from the practice of law after the Indiana Supreme Court found that he had committed attorney misconduct.
Supreme Court justices unanimously concluded in a Monday per curiam order that disbarment was the best option for attorney Steven Fulk, who “committed attorney misconduct by neglecting a client’s case, converting an employee’s tax withholdings for his own personal use, and failing to cooperate with the disciplinary process.”
The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a two-count disciplinary complaint against Fulk in May 2019 and although he was served, Fulk never properly appeared or responded. After a hearing officer took the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the justices accepted the allegations against Fulk, finding no petition for review of the case’s hearing officer’s report was filed in the case of In The Matter of Steven T Fulk, 19S-DI-00277.
Justices had already indefinitely suspended Fulk, who was twice suspended in 2019 for his noncooperation with the disciplinary commission’s investigations of grievances against him.
In Count 1, the Supreme Court’s order says Fulk represented Client 1 in post-dissolution matters in Hamilton County. When the client’s ex-wife filed a motion for rule to show cause alleging Fulk’s client had failed to reimburse his portion of uninsured medical and dental expenses for several years, a hearing on the matter was scheduled.
However, neither Fulk nor Client 1 appeared for the hearing, despite both the court and opposing counsel having sent notice of the hearing date to Fulk. As a result, Client 1 was found in contempt and ordered to pay back medical and dental support and attorney fees within 45 days.
The order also says that Client 1 later filed a letter with the court indicating that the first he had learned of the hearing or the court order was in an email sent by his ex-wife about five weeks after the hearing. In that letter and a subsequent letter, Client 1 informed the court that he had attempted without success to contact Fulk multiple times and by multiple means, the order says.
Client 1 subsequently requested that the court vacate its contempt order, remove Fulk from the case, and allow Client 1 to proceed pro se. Client 1’s pro se efforts to obtain relief from the contempt order were unsuccessful, and the court later reduced that order to a civil judgment against Client 1 in the amount of $2,545.35. When the Commission opened an investigation, Fulk failed to substantively respond to the Commission’s demand for information or comply with a subpoena duces tecum for Client 1’s file, the order says.
In Count 2, the order says that Fulk employed an assistant from 2005 until the assistant quit in early 2018. During that time, the order says Fulk withheld money for Social Security from assistant’s earnings, but instead of depositing those sums with the federal government, he instead converted those funds for his own personal use.
In late 2017, assistant received a Social Security statement showing she had no earnings for any of the years she had worked for Fulk. When assistant confronted Fulk about it, he promised he would get it corrected, but Fulk never did. He also failed to respond to the commission’s demand for information on the matter, the order states.
Thus, the high court found Fulk violated the following Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct:
- 1.4(a)(3): Failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter;
- 3.4(c): Knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules or an order of a court;
- 8.1(b): Knowingly failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority;
- 8.4(b): Committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer, and;
- 8.4(c): Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
“Respondent stole earnings from Assistant (his sole employee) during the entire twelve plus years of her employment, violating both state and federal criminal law in the process. Respondent severely neglected Client’s case, resulting in financial detriment to Client. Respondent has shown absolutely no remorse for, or insight into, his misconduct. Respondent refused to cooperate with the Commission’s investigations, has refused to meaningfully participate in these disciplinary proceedings, and has filed no petition for review, brief on sanction, or responsive brief in this Court. Under these circumstances, and based on the record before us, we conclude that Respondent should be disbarred,” the justices wrote Monday in a per curiam order.
The disbarment is effective immediately.
Fulk, who was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1995, shall fulfill all the duties of a disbarred attorney under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(26). The costs of the proceeding are assessed against him.