Lying to client about filing lawsuit gets Indy attorney at least 1-year suspension

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An Indianapolis attorney has been suspended from the practice of law for no less than one year without automatic reinstatement after he lied to a client about filing a lawsuit on her behalf and failed to inform her that she may have had an actionable malpractice claim against him.

Indiana Supreme Court justices in a Feb. 24 order in In the Matter of: Seth B. Haynes, 21S-DI-281, found Seth Haynes violated numerous Indiana Professional Conduct Rules.

Haynes’ suspension ordered by the high court begins April 7.

The disciplinary order claims Haynes was hired, and paid a $1,000 retainer, by the father of “Client” for purposes of pursuing a civil lawsuit on Client’s behalf. However, Haynes never filed the lawsuit, but falsely told Client he had. He also lied in telling Client that a $7,000 judgment had been awarded to her.

Haynes continued to make various false excuses as to why the judgment had not yet been paid to Client, who later learned from the clerk that no lawsuit had ever been filed on her behalf.

When Client’s father demanded a refund of the retainer and an additional $8,000 remittance, Haynes agreed to remit payment. However, Haynes only refunded the $1,000 retainer and made no other payments.

Before ending his representation of Client, Haynes failed to advise her of the statute of limitations applicable to her claim or the fact she may have had an actionable malpractice claim against him.

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed its disciplinary complaint against Haynes on June 8, 2021. He was served but did not file an answer.

A hearing officer granted the commission’s motion for judgment on the complaint and issued a report on Dec. 13, 2021. No petition for review was filed, although the commission filed a brief on sanction.

Justices concluded Haynes violated the following 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(b): Failing to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions.
  • 1.16(d): Failing to take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests upon termination of representation.
  • 8.4(c): Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The order states Haynes may not undertake any new legal matters between service of the order and the effective date of the suspension, and must fulfill all the duties of a suspended attorney under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(26).

Haynes may petition for reinstatement to the practice of law in Indiana at the end of his suspension, so long as he pays the costs of the proceeding, fulfills the duties of a suspended attorney and satisfies the requirements for reinstatement of Admission and Discipline Rule 23(18).

The costs of the proceeding are against him. This is Haynes’ first disciplinary action, according to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys.

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