Seymour lawyer suspended for false statements against judge

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A Seymour attorney has been suspended from the practice of law in Indiana for knowingly making false statements about a judge’s qualifications.

The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday imposed a 30-day suspension, with automatic reinstatement, against Jason M. Smith.

Smith was representing defendant Matthew DuSablon in a dispute with Jackson County Bank when the trial court granted injunctions in JCB’s favor. The court also found DuSablon in contempt and awarded attorney fees to the bank.

DuSablon appealed, still represented by Smith, who “made several intemperate and unfounded attacks on the integrity of Judge Bruce MacTavish,” the Jackson Superior Court judge who had presided over the trial court proceedings. In an appellant’s brief,  Smith wrote that MacTavish displayed “extreme bias and prejudice” and violated DuSablon’s constitutional rights because his “personal interests in the outcome of the case, due to his family relationship with a corporate officer which automatically disqualified him from the matter under Judicial Canon 2.11, his personal account and mortgage, obtained the same day he accepted jurisdiction, with JCB, and his subsequent blatant actions and conduct clearly demonstrating his bias toward JCB, worked in unison to deprive DuSablon of even the appearance of impartiality or the hope of a fair proceeding guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Court of Appeals of Indiana chastised Smith in a footnote and ordered that the case materials be forwarded to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.  The commission filed a complaint against Smith in October 2020, alleging he violated Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(a), and a hearing officer agreed.

In his defense, Smith argued the commission failed to specifically identify all the statements in the brief that allegedly violated Rule 8.2(a). While the Supreme Court agreed that the better practice “would have been to specifically recite in the complaint each and every statement … ,” the complaint still provided Smith with sufficient notice of the statements that would be at issue.

Smith also argued the commission failed to prove that he made the statements against MacTavish in light of the “broad protection for statements made in a legal proceedings on a client’s behalf … .”

But “(t)urning to those statements, we readily agree with the hearing officer that, viewed individually or in toto, they crossed the line into impermissible conduct,” the Supreme Court wrote in a per curiam opinion. “The hearing officer’s report comprehensively debunks the various factual assertions made by Respondent in the appellant’s brief with respect to Judge MacTavish; and applying our standard of review, we find ample evidence to support the hearing officer’s ultimate finding that Respondent knew these assertions were false or acted in reckless disregard of whether they were true or false.

“… The hearing officer’s report and record in this case amply rebut any notion that the particular statements regarding Judge MacTavish’s integrity were made by Respondent in good faith — even assuming, arguendo, that the broader due process arguments were made in good faith,” the court held. “Put simply, Respondent has not offered any support for his statements about Judge MacTavish’s integrity beyond assertions that are belied by the record.”

Smith’s suspension will begin on April 8. At the end of 30 days, provided no other suspensions are in effect, he will be automatically reinstated.

The case is In the Matter of Jason M. Smith, 20S-DI-577.

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