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Disciplinary: Indiana Supreme Court Issues 4 Disciplinary Opinions
Posted in Litigation

On Wednesday, the Indiana Supreme Court issued four opinions involving judicial and attorney disciplinary proceedings.

Judicial Discipline

In In re Hawkins & Broyles, the Indiana Supreme Court concluded that Marion Superior Court Judge Grant W. Hawkins committed judicial conduct and suspended him for sixty days without pay.  The misconduct charges against Judge Hawkins stemmed from a complaint filed by a Harold D. Buntin alleging that his post-conviction relief before Commissioner Nancy Broyles had been pending for nearly 22 months.  Other issues arose during the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s investigation.  Pursuant to an agreement with the Commission, Commissioner Broyles will no longer serve in any judicial capacity of any kind. 

The Court split, however, on an appropriate sanction for Judge Hawkins.  Chief Justice Shepard and Justice Sullivan would have imposed a one-year suspension.  Justice Dickson believed the 60-day suspension appropriate.  Justices Boehm and Rucker would have imposed a thirty-day suspension, but agreed with the 60-day suspension inasmuch as “a majority [of the Court] favors a suspension for that period or longer.”

In In re Felts, the Indiana Supreme Court issued a public reprimand of Allen Circuit Judge Thomas J. Felts.  Following his arrest in July 2008, Judge Felts pled guilty to the class A misdemeanor of operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of at least .15.

Attorney Discipline

In In re Marshall, the Indiana Supreme Court issued a public reprimand after concluding that partners in a law firm “engaged in attorney misconduct by failing to promptly pay a client the portion of a jury award to which the client was indisputably entitled.”  This, the Court concluded, violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.15, which provides that a lawyer “shall promptly deliver to the client . . . any funds or other property that the client is entitled to receive, and upon request by the client . . . shall promptly render a full accounting regarding such property.” 

After the issue arose between the lawyers and their client, Rule 1.15 was amended to state that lawyers who dispute amounts due to their client must nevertheless promptly distribute the portion that is not in dispute.  Before the amendment, this statement was found in a comment.  The Court concluded that, even under the former statement of the rule, the lawyers were required to remit the undisputed portion of the jury award to their client.

In In re Recker, the Indiana Supreme Court found that an attorney did not engage in misconduct.  The issue in Recker stemmed from Putnam County’s public defender contracts with two private attorneys who were given office space and common support services to perform those duties. 

Recker was contracted by the Putnam Circuit Court; the other lawyer was contracted by the Superior Court.  While discussing pending cases, Recker learned from the other public defender that one of her assigned clients, “XY,” might be acting as a jailhouse informant against one of Recker’s assigned clients, “AB.”  The other public defender did not know Recker was representing AB.  Recker, in turn, passed the information on to another lawyer of AB’s.  The question, then, was whether Recker was in a “firm” with the other public defender and therefore owed a duty to her client, XY, not to communicate what he had learned.

The Indiana Supreme Court concluded that, under the circumstances, Recker was not a member of a law firm with the other lawyer such that he owed a duty to XY.  In the course of its opinion, though, the Court did stress that when attorneys are practicing independently, “they must take care not to share improperly confidential information about their clients with each other.  Attorneys sharing office space, as public defenders or in other contexts, may benefit from consulting with each other about legal issues, but this can be done ethically only after first determining that the interests of both attorneys’ clients are not compromised.”  Justice Sullivan dissented, believing the Court was too narrowly construing the term “firm.”



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