Justices permit remote attorney disciplinary proceedings

Indiana Supreme Court justices in a Wednesday order provided instructions to hearing officers and parties in attorney disciplinary proceedings that have not yet proceeded to final hearing, perhaps most significantly permitting remote proceedings due to the continuing pandemic.

The Indiana Supreme Court, beginning in March 2020 and periodically since then, issued several orders granting and extending coronavirus-related emergency relief for matters in the Indiana Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Tax Court, and Clerk of Courts.

However, although the high court has exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 23 over attorney disciplinary matters, none of the orders issued to date specifically addressed those proceedings, justices noted in a Wednesday order.

Thus, due to the ongoing public health, the Indiana Supreme Court on its own motion provided instructions in the order to hearing officers and parties in attorney disciplinary proceedings which have not yet proceeded to final hearing.

The instructions are as follows:

  • Hearing officers are reminded that they have the power and duty to do “all things necessary and proper” to fulfill their responsibilities.
  • Hearing officers have a responsibility to protect the health of personnel and participants in the same general manner provided by this Court’s November 10, 2020 “Order on Continued Emergency Actions” in Case No. 20S-CB-123.
  • Unless exceptional circumstances require otherwise, all status conferences and other preliminary hearings must be conducted remotely.
  • For the duration of the public health emergency, hearing officers may conduct final hearings remotely, notwithstanding any contrary provision of Admission and Discipline Rule 23(14)(f)(3).
  • Hearing officers may live-stream nonconfidential proceedings on a public platform to accommodate the public’s access to disciplinary proceedings and limit in-person spectator attendance. Such a live stream shall be viewable only during the proceeding and shall not be made available for later playback.

Additionally, for final hearings conducted in-person, hearing officers shall do all of the following:

  • Require all participants and spectators to wear appropriate masks or face shields (as a reasonable accommodation for those who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons or other circumstances) throughout the hearing except for witnesses, who may remove their masks for the limited period of providing a verbal response to questions, and other limited individual circumstances.
  • Ensure appropriate distancing among participants and spectators is maintained, including by limiting the number of spectators (other than parties and their attorneys) to the extent necessary.
  • Comply with, and enforce, local and statewide public health orders as they relate to court proceedings and the facility in which the hearing is being conducted.
  • Follow the guidance issued by the Indiana Office of Court Services as it relates to protocols for conducting live hearings, including the use of screening questions and other similar measures, as the circumstances of each case may warrant.

“This order is intended solely as direction for the manner of conducting hearings in disciplinary cases and does not vacate or continue any existing hearing dates. All scheduling orders previously issued by hearing officers in these matters not in conflict with this order remain in full force and effect,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in the order.

The order specifies it relates to these pending cases: 19S-DI-427, 19S-DI-587, 19S-DI-647, 19S-DI-657, 20S-DI-11, 20S-DI-21, 20S-DI-27, 20S-DI-66, 20S-DI-90, 20S-DI-312, 20S-DI-322, 20S-DI-374, 20S-DI-377, 20S-DI-420, 20S-DI-474, 20S-DI-487, 20S-DI-526, 20S-DI-529, 20S-DI-556, 20S-DI-577, 20S-DI-584, 20S-DI-628.

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