Merrillville attorney facing discipline over falsified electronic filing error resigns from bar

A Merrillville attorney who was 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 has resigned from the Indiana bar.

Arthur C. Johnson resigned under Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 23(17), which requires an acknowledgement that the respondent could not have successfully defended himself against the allegations of misconduct, according to an Indiana Supreme Court order issued Monday concluding the disciplinary proceeding.

According to the disciplinary complaint filed March 3, 2020, Johnson was representing a business in federal litigation with a union in Board of Trustees of Pipe Fitters Retirement Fund, Local 597, et al. v. Commercial Cooling and Heating, Inc., 1:13-cv-07731. He failed to file an answer to the plaintiffs’ amended complaint by the Aug. 16, 2018, deadline.

When the plaintiffs moved for a default judgment based on the failure to answer, Johnson filed the answer Aug. 27, 2018. He then sent his assistant the email notice of the filing that is automatically generated by the electronic filing system when a document is submitted to the federal court.

Minutes later, his assistant sent an email to the court stating the law office had filed the answer Aug. 15, but received a system error message in response. Included in the email was a falsified notice of filing of the answer on Aug. 15, 2018, at 4:30 p.m.

Johnson then filed a response to the motion for default judgment and attached the “fraudulent email to court staff … calling it ‘an email chain containing a screenshot evidencing the filing of the responsive pleading,’” the disciplinary complaint states.

Plaintiffs’ attorney contacted Johnson and stated she believed he had made false statements. When Johnson did not respond, she reiterated her concerns in her reply to his response to the motion for default judgment.

At hearings in August and October 2018, Johnson maintained to the court the answer had been filed Aug. 15. In February 2019, Johnson filed a post-hearing brief in which he told the court that his assistant had not told him the truth.

The Disciplinary Commission then started an investigation, which resulted in the Indiana Supreme Court suspending his license about April 12 for failure to cooperate. The suspension was terminated about April 18, and he was assessed $522.69 for the costs of prosecuting the proceeding.

In July 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana entered an order of sanctions for $33,252.36 against Johnson and his law firm.

The Disciplinary Commission issued a subpoena duces tecum and, after Johnson did not respond, filed a petition for a rule to show cause why he should not be suspended for failure to cooperate.

In the March disciplinary complaint, Johnson was alleged to have violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct:

  • 1.3, failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
  • 3.3(a)(1), failing to correct a false statement of material fact previously made to the tribunal.
  • 3.3(a)(3), knowingly offering evidence that respondent knew to be false.
  • 3.4(c), knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal.
  • 5.3(b), failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of a nonlaywer he was directly supervising was compatible with respondent’s professional obligations.
  • 8.1(b), knowingly failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority.
  • 8.4(d), engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

The case is In the Matter of: Arthur C. Johnson, 20S-DI-90.

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