Indianapolis attorney Loren Comstock has been suspended from the practice of law for 120 days effective Dec. 14 for failing to provide competent representation and to keep his client reasonably informed about the progress of her federal lawsuit against her former employer and labor union.
The Indiana Supreme Court made his reinstatement conditional on his refunding the full $10,000 retainer he had taken from the client at the start of her lawsuit.
According to the disciplinary complaint, the client hired Comstock in early 2013 to represent her in a wrongful termination claim against her former employer, Indianapolis Power & Light, and her former labor union, Indiana Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1350.
In October 2014, Comstock filed a complaint for damages against IPL and IBEW. The complaint was filed based on a federal hybrid Section 301 action of the Labor Management Relations Act. Two months later, the defendants moved to dismiss, arguing the claim was barred by a six-month statute of limitations and failed to state sufficient facts.
Comstock, claiming health issues, filed a motion for enlargement, requesting additional time to respond to the defendants’ motion. However, court documents state he failed to miss subsequent deadlines and orders from the federal court to file his response. Also, the documents note, Comstock was not communicating with his client about the defendants seeking a dismissal, his own health problems or the reasons for the delays in her case.
Eventually, Comstock filed a four-page response on Sept. 4, 2015, and an addendum on Sept. 7, 2015. The federal court granted the dismissal with prejudice on Sept. 21, 2015.
Comstock then sent a letter to his client on Sept. 24, enclosing a copy of the order dismissing her case but stating he believed there was an issue for appeal. He indicated he was willing to continue representing the client on appeal for no additional charges, but he did not advise her of the deadline for making the appeal. In addition, he did not try to phone or reach her by any other means.
The client never received the letter, according to court documents, and only later found out through a friend that her case had been dismissed.
When the client was finally able to reach Comstock, he admitted he had “dropped the ball” on her case and failed to timely file her lawsuit, causing it to be dismissed. He said he would refund the unearned fees but never did so.
Comstock was found to have violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 1.1 (failure to provide competent representation); 1.3 (failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness); 1.4(a)(2) (failure to reasonably consult with a client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished); 1.4(a)(3) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter); 1.4(a)(4) (failure to comply promptly with a client’s reasonable requests for information); 1.16(a)(2) (failure to withdraw from representation when the lawyer’s physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer’s ability to represent the client); and 1.16(d) (failure to refund advance payment of fees and expenses that have not been earned or incurred).
After his disciplinary hearing and the issuance of the hearing officer’s report, Comstock did make partial restitution to the client in the amount of $2,500. The Supreme Court held that if he fully refunds the $7,500 balance and files a verified accounting by March 29, 2022, he will be automatically reinstated.
If he does not make restitution, he will continue to be suspended until he has shown a refund has been made.