EDITORIAL: Root out rogue attorneys

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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.•

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