May 29, 2012

Threatening to Turn in a Lawyer to Disciplinary Counsel Is Grounds for Discipline

Category: Attorney Discipline | Author: | Share:

Attorneys cannot threaten to turn other attorneys into disciplinary counsel in order to gain a legal advantage according to the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent disciplinary decision in In re Dimick, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. 2012), Cause No. 49S00-1107-DI-455. Doing so is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

In this case, an attorney the Court calls “SAB” helped a couple complete a settlement of a trade defamation case. The funds from that settlement were then paid to SAB in order to satisfy a debt the husband owed SAB on an unrelated matter. Later, the wife filed for divorce and SAB entered an appearance for the husband.

While the divorce was pending, Dimick engaged in the following behavior:

[T]he wife retained Respondent regarding a potential claim against SAB for the handling of the settlement funds. Respondent sent SAB a letter alleging professional misconduct, including having a conflict of interest barring him from representing the husband, lack of candor, and conversion of the settlement funds. The letter gave SAB a “window of opportunity” to resolve the matter. Respondent stated that if she did not hear from him within that time, “I will file [the wife’s] claims with the Indiana Disciplinary Commission and in state court.” Thus, the letter implied that Respondent would file a grievance against SAB unless SAB made a settlement offer.

Presumably, SAB then turned Dimick into Disciplinary Counsel for making that threat.

The parties agreed that Dimick’s threat constituted “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(d). Dimick received a public reprimand, even though she consented to the discipline.

Lesson:

    You can be disciplined if you use the threat of turning an opposing attorney into disciplinary counsel in order to gain an advantage for your client.

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