July 28, 2012
Prosecution, Not Persecution, In Indiana
An attorney who had claimed that his prosecution in bar disciplinary proceedings was "persecution" for being a "follower of Jesus" has been suspended for two years without automatic reinstatement by the Indiana Supreme Court.
The court found the persecution claim to be "disingenuous to the extreme."
The attorney has not actively practiced law since the early 1990s. The client retained him in 1983. He was given power of attorney by the client. The client went to a retirement village in 1984. Her health declined and she was moved to a residential care facility. The attorney took control of her finances.
When the attorney failed to pay for her care, the facility was unable to contact him. They reached the client's niece, who was the client's closest relative. She was able to find him after some effort. He told her the money was gone.
She retained counsel, had the power of attorney revoked and was appointed in his place. The attorney refused to provide an accounting required by law and claimed that the amounts he had taken for himself were legal fees.
When bar proceedings followed the court action, he changed his story. He claimed the amounts taken were intended as compensation for his writing and publishing books, including "American Folk Gospel" and a biography of an Indiana evangelist.
The court did not accept the second story, noting that the attorney had vigorously pursued his claim for legal fees in the courts for several years.
The attorney was found to have charged unreasonable fees, violated the business transactions with a client rule, failed to account and other violations in his dealings with the frail, elderly client. The false story was found to constitute conduct involving dishonesty.
He took approximately 1/3 of the client's estate, approximately $100,000.
The court declined to impose disbarment, which it characterized as a "non-event" because he has not practiced for nearly twenty years. If he were disbarred (a permanent sanction in Indiana) he would have "no incentive to come to grips with the pain and suffering he has wrought."
Two justices would impose disbarment. (Mike Frisch)
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