A Whitestown lawyer who has been the subject of nine disciplinary actions has been suspended from the practice of law in Indiana for at least one year without automatic reinstatement.
The Indiana Supreme Court handed down the suspension against Robert Cheesebourough in a Thursday per curiam opinion. His suspension will begin July 7.
The court’s Disciplinary Commission filed a two-count complaint against Cheesebourough almost one year ago to the day of Thursday’s order. The hearing officer, Judge William J. Nelson, found Cheesebourough violated five Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, and Cheesebourough did not petition for review of the hearing officer’s report.
In the first count against Cheesebourough, the lawyer was representing members of a church’s board of directors in a Madison County dispute with other church members. The directors had accused the members of improperly using church funds to pay their lawyer, so Cheesebourough sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the suit be dropped and the funds paid to opposing counsel be returned to the church.
If opposing counsel did not comply, Cheesebourough threatened to file a disciplinary grievance against opposing counsel and the judge. He also threatened opposing counsel with a criminal complaint.
The commission began investigating the incident, and Cheesebourough initially did not timely respond to inquiries. Show cause proceeds began but were dismissed after Cheesebourough eventually complied. In a footnote, the Supreme Court said a total of “seven separate show cause proceedings have been initiated against Respondent since 2017, one of which resulted in a noncooperation suspension and another one of which remains pending.”
In the second count, Cheesebourough was hired by a defendant against whom a $720,000 default judgment had been entered. Cheesebourough successfully moved to set aside the judgment but then failed to comply with discovery, respond to a motion to compel or appear at a hearing on the motion. Thus, the default judgment was reinstated.
Cheesebourough again moved to set aside the judgment, and the trial court agreed. However, the court imposed sanctions totaling $4,331.25 for the plaintiff. Cheesebourough finally complied with a motion to compel discovery, but neither he nor his client paid the sanctions. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and when Cheesebourough failed to appear at a hearing, the court granted summary judgment in the plaintiff’s favor for $866,693 plus $44,619 in attorney fees.
The defendant repeatedly tried to contact Cheesebourough but received no response, so he fired him. The defendant then filed a grievance against Cheesebourough and settled the lawsuit directly with the plaintiff.
“We concur in the hearing officer’s findings of fact,” the Supreme Court held in the per curiam opinion, finding Cheesebourough violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct:
- 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(a)(4), failing to comply promptly with a client’s reasonable requests for information.
- 8.1(b), knowingly failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority.
- 8.4(d), engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
“Respondent has prior discipline for similar misconduct and an extensive history of noncooperation with disciplinary investigations. Respondent also has been administratively suspended seven times for noncompliance with continuing legal education requirements and nonpayment of dues and disciplinary costs,” the high court wrote. “All of this, save for one administrative suspension, has transpired within the last few years. Respondent has also engaged in a pattern of dishonesty toward the hearing officer during these proceedings, and his testimony during the final hearing — including his assertions he was unable to stay awake long enough to claim certified mailings of the disciplinary grievances filed against him — demonstrates an indifference to fulfilling even the most basic responsibilities of an attorney.
“We find ample support for the hearing officer’s recommendation that Respondent be suspended for at least one year and thereafter remain suspended until he can prove clearly and convincingly that he is fit to resume practice, and neither party has filed a brief urging a different sanction be imposed,” the court wrote.
Cheesebourough was ordered not to undertake any new legal matters between service of Thursday’s opinion and the July 7 start of his suspension. He must also fulfill the duties of a suspended attorney under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(26).
Cheesebourough can petition for reinstatement at the end of the one-year period if he pays the costs of the proceeding, fulfills the duties of a suspended lawyer and satisfies the requirements for reinstatement under Rule 23(18).
All justices concurred in In the Matter of Robert Cheesebourough, 20S-DI-377.
According to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, Cheesebourough has been the subject of nine disciplinary actions since his admission to the Indiana bar in 1994. One of those cases — In the Matter of Robert Dale Cheesebourough, 21S-DI-80 — remains pending.