IBJOpinion

EDITORIAL: Root out rogue attorneys

IBJ Staff
August 17, 2013
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IBJ Editorial

They’ve been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yet next to the names Paul J. Page and David Wyser in the Indiana Roll of Attorneys appear the words: “Active in good standing.”

Page, a Marion County criminal defense attorney, in January pleaded guilty to a felony wire fraud charge in connection with an Elkhart real estate deal. Wyser, a former Marion County deputy prosecutor, in May pleaded guilty to a felony bribery charge for accepting a campaign donation in return for a reduced sentence for a convicted murderer.

The men face potential prison time for their crimes. But the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission has allowed them to continue practicing law in Indiana. Adding insult to injury: The attorneys’ public files with the agency show no active disciplinary cases.

That’s a problem for an agency charged with protecting the public. The commission has allowed Page, Wyser and other attorneys who have pleaded guilty to felonies to continue practicing law, while aggressively pursuing comparatively minor matters.

One example is the commission’s case against outspoken attorney and blogger Paul Ogden, who stands accused of criticizing a judge in a private email. Ogden has not been charged with a criminal offense.

Perhaps that mentality stems from the disciplinary commission’s focusing too much on another part of its charge: Protecting lawyers against unwarranted claims of misconduct.

It’s difficult to know if the commission is investigating Page and Wyser. Any records are confidential until a formal disciplinary charge is filed by the commission.

The commission rarely seeks a suspension during an investigation, and in the case of criminal charges, generally awaits sentencing before taking action. Neither Page nor Wyser has been sentenced, as their plea deals call for cooperation with federal authorities on cases involving as-yet-uncharged defendants.

Their testimony is likely to implicate other practicing local attorneys who remain in good standing with the disciplinary commission—as well they should if no criminal charges are forthcoming. But it shouldn’t take federal charges, guilty pleas, or convictions and completed sentencing to prod the commission into rooting out rogue attorneys.

William Conour, the Indianapolis attorney who pleaded guilty to wire fraud this year after stealing from clients, resigned from the bar in June 2012. Until then, the disciplinary commission also listed him as “active in good standing”—despite complaints from a former partner dating back at least four years.

The vast majority of attorneys have clean records, and it isn’t fair for the profession to be spotted with potentially bad apples.

There should be a path in the attorney discipline process for emergency suspensions for those who plead guilty to a criminal offense, much like the state Medical Licensing Board could pursue for a doctor who presents a public danger.•

Send comments on this editorial to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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  • a good idea but perhaps overly broad suggestion
    Overall I agree they should act quickly on these matters where someone has plead guilty to theft and fraud and any crimes of falsehood. However lawyers are human and sinners and don't necesarily deserve to have their professional licenses revoked for every crime or just pleading guilty to any crime. I think the reader is left with that notion from this editorial. There should be a narrower recommendation. One fellow I know a lifelong friend and a fine lawyer fell into alcohol problems for example and had to plead to a DUI, not his first. He dried out and got back on his feet. We would be really, really wrong to deny him the right to make a living because of his problem. Sadly the "fintess" examinations of lawyers are sometimes also used to screen out the politically incorrect. This has happened more than once and is increasing as lawyers are overly punished for vague offenses under aggressive interpretations of RPC 8.4 I think is the one-- "wide as a barn door" and used against various and sundry thought-criminals. Let's get the bar working faster to police the Conours and leave the free-thinkers alone. Let's protect the public from fraud and theft and corruption where licenses are used as part of the scheme-- and cut lawyers slack for private "crimes" like DUIs or whatever where they are just showing their feet of clay and not putting their professional licenses into play as part of the matter.
  • Fox Guarding the Hen House
    Lawyers policing lawyers? REEEAALLLLY?
  • Police Yourself First
    Perhaps before routing out "rogue attorneys" the Supreme Court might want to clean up its own house and discipline Mark Massa for not recusing himself from a case the outcome of which will have significant financial implications for his close friend Mark Lubbers. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

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