FOR THE RESPONDENT
Donna R. Hagedorn
Attorney at Law
957 East Powell Avenue
Evansville, IN 47713
FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPINARY COMMISSION
Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Charles M. Kidd, Staff Attorney
115 West Washington Street, Suite 1060
Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) CASE NO. 82S00-9601-DI-83
DONNA R. HAGEDORN )
March 10, 2000
Attorney Donna R. Hagedorn neglected the legal affairs of three clients and, in
certain instances, misrepresented to them the status of their case or mismanaged funds
she held in trust for them. For those acts, we find today
that she should be suspended from the practice of law.
This Court appointed a hearing officer who, after conducting a hearing on the
merits, concluded that the respondent engaged in misconduct. The hearing officers report
is now before us for final resolution. Since neither the respondent nor
the Disciplinary Commission has challenged the hearing officers findings, we accept and adopt
them, but reserve final judgment as to misconduct and sanction.
Grimm, 674 N.E.2d 551 (Ind. 1996). The respondents admission to the bar
of this state on May 17, 1967, confers our jurisdiction of this case.
Pursuant to Count I, we now find that a client retained the respondent
some time after May 1989 to perform legal services in a post-dissolution matter.
The client paid the respondent $50 to review the file and an additional
$250 retainer. By July 25, 1989, the client decided to discharge the
respondent due to her inactivity on the case, and sent her a letter
advising her of the termination and requesting return of case file materials to
which she was entitled, as well as the unused portion of the retainer.
Initially, respondent did not respond to the clients requests. However, upon
a chance meeting in November 1989, the respondent did finally return to the
client the requested materials. To recover the retainer, however, the client was
forced to file a small claims action, resulting in a judgment for the
client in the sum of $100.
We find that the respondent violated Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 1.16(d) by failing to
promptly return the clients file and failing, short of being compelled by legal
judgment, to refund any unearned portion of the retainer.
Under Count II, we find that the respondent was appointed as guardian for
an individual on January 19, 1989, and appointed representative payee for the individuals
social security and supplemental security income checks. The respondent served as representative payee
for the social security checks from February 1989 through approximately January 1990. She
held the same status with respect to the supplemental security income checks from
February 1989 through approximately May 1990.
The respondent deposited the social security checks directly into a bank savings account.
The supplemental security income checks, however, were not directly deposited, but instead
were cashed by the respondent. She kept the funds at her law
On July 25, 1991, the respondent appeared in the Vanderburgh Superior Court for
a hearing on a petition to terminate the guardianship. The court found that
an inventory of the estate was required by the terms of the guardianship
but that it has never been filed. The court ordered the respondent to
file an inventory and to prepare and file an accounting of the funds
she received and spent a month-by-month basis. On December 10, 1991, the
court held a show cause hearing regarding the guardianship. The court rejected the
interim accounting the respondent had filed, finding that the respondent had unlawfully failed
to place the social security and supplemental security income checks in a separate
account. The court also found that the respondent did not maintain
any formal records accounting for funds she gave directly to the ward.
Additionally, the court found that the respondent had taken $500 from the guardianship
fund as attorney fees without court approval. The court discovered a $2,132.56
shortage in the guardianship funds and ordered the respondent to pay that amount
to the clerk, which the respondent did.
By failing to keep the guardianship funds separate from her own, the respondent
violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a).
By failing to file an inventory and accounting
as ordered by the Vanderburgh Superior Court, and by helping herself to a
fee from guardianship funds without court approval, the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 3.4(c).
Under Count III, we find that in March 1988 a couple contacted the
respondent about handling a private adoption. Although she was not able to
assist them at that time, the respondent indicated she might be able to
assist with a private adoption in the future. In March of 1989,
the respondent contacted the couple, indicating she knew of a woman who was
due to deliver her child in April of 1989 and who wanted to
make the child available for adoption. The respondent met with the couple
and explained that they would be responsible for medical and legal expenses for
the birth mother, and postpartum medical expenses for the child. The respondent
indicated that her fee would be $1,200, with $500 of that due immediately.
By check dated March 9, 1989 the couple paid the respondent $500.
They paid an additional $500 to the respondent on April 6,
The child the couple sought to adopt was born April 21, 1989.
The respondent did not prepare or file a petition for adoption.
She did, however, obtain the birth mothers consent, and an order of the
Vanderburgh Superior Court releasing the child to the couples care on April 24,
1989. Before the child was released to the couple, the respondent failed
to tell them that a pre-placement investigation was required, and the respondent did
not arrange for such an investigation. Further, the respondent did not arrange
for post-placement supervision as required by the Vanderburgh Superior Court.
As agreed, the couple, on July 19, 1989, paid to the respondent $3,001.70
for the medical expenses of the child and the birth mother. In
turn, the respondent agreed to forward the bills for the child to the
couples employer for consideration of payment. Although the respondent failed to forward
the bills as agreed, she did sign a personal guarantee of payment for
the hospital expenses associated with the childs birth. The hospital later sued
the respondent to recover these expenses, in the amount of $671.10, plus $223.70
in attorney fees. On May 14, 1991, the respondent entered into an
agreed judgment with the hospital.
By the time the child was one year old, the respondent had still
not filed a petition for the couple to adopt the child. On
November 28, 1990, the respondent had the couple come to her office to
sign a petition for adoption. The couple signed the petition, but the
respondent failed to file the petition with the court. The respondent also told
the couple that the birth mothers parental rights had been terminated in September
1990, when in fact respondent had no basis to believe that the parental
rights of the birth mother had been terminated.
On April 21, 1991, the childs second birthday, the adoption still had not
been filed. Nonetheless, the respondent informed the couple the adoption would be finalized
on May 2, 1991. On May 1, 1991, the respondent informed them
that finalization of the adoption would be postponed because the respondent was required
to publish notice (to the putative father) of the adoption. On June
11, 1991, the respondent informed the couple that finalization of the adoption would
once again be delayed, this time because the Vanderburgh County Welfare Department had
allegedly lost a 1988 home study done in the couples home. In
fact, the home study was not a condition precedent to the adoption and
the respondent misrepresented to the couple that the 1988 home study had been
On July 1, 1991, the couple discharged the respondent as their attorney and
instructed her to forward their files to another attorney. The respondent forwarded
the files as requested.
By failing to arrange the required pre-placement evaluation, failing to terminate the parental
rights of the birth mother and the putative father, and failing to prepare
or file a petition for adoption, the respondent failed to provide competent representation
in contravention of Prof.Cond.R. 1.1.
The respondents actions also reflected a disregard
for the clients decisions regarding their desire to obtain a private adoption, and
thus violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.2(a), which requires lawyers to abide by their clients decisions
regarding the objectives of representation.
By failing to begin formal adoption
proceedings and thereby failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing
the couple, the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.3.
By failing to keep the
couple reasonably advised about the status of the adoption, and failing to explain
the matter to the extent reasonably necessary to allow the clients to make
informed decisions about the representation, she violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.4.
misleading the couple about the course and status of the adoption proceedings, the
respondent engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation in violation of
Having found misconduct, we must now determine an appropriate discipline. The Disciplinary Commission,
in a memorandum on sanction, argues that the serial nature of the respondents
neglect (of both clients legal matters and funds) and her purposeful deception of
clients calls for a severe sanction.
The respondents pattern of neglect of her clients cases demonstrates serious shortcomings in
her commitment to represent zealously their interests.
See Preamble, A Lawyers Responsibility,
Rules of Professional Conduct. Clients were forced to take additional action to
receive the services they had paid the respondent to provide, with one client
even having to resort to legal action to recover from the respondent fees
she had not earned. Equally disconcerting is the respondents mishandling of
a clients funds. Few other acts of misconduct impugn the integrity of
the bar or place the public more at risk than an attorneys mismanagement
of funds held in trust. Matter of Brooks, 694 N.E.2d 724 (Ind.
1998). Finally, the respondent went beyond neglect into the realm of purposeful wrongful
misconduct by repeatedly misleading her adoption clients as to the status of their
In similar cases of serial neglect or neglect coupled with other attendant misconduct,
this Court has suspended the offending lawyers from the practice of law.
Matter of Cherry, 658 N.E.2d 596 (Ind. 1995) (90 day suspension for
neglecting to file a criminal appeal, along with misrepresenting the status of the
appeal to the client); Matter of Kelly, 655 N.E.2d 1220 (Ind. 1995) (suspension
for eighteen months for four counts of neglect); Matter of Chovanec, 695 N.E.2d
95 (Ind. 1998) (one-year suspension for serial neglect and mishandling of client funds,);
Matter of Newman, 659 N.E.2d 1044 (Ind. 1996) (three counts of misconduct coupled
with mishandling of clients funds resulted in a six-month suspension without automatic reinstatement).
In light of this precedent and the similar facts of this
case, we conclude that the present misconduct warrants a moderate period of suspension
in order to demonstrate our intolerance of the respondents conduct and to protect
the public and the profession.
Accordingly, the respondent, Donna R. Hagedorn, is hereby suspended from the practice of
law for a period of six (6) months, beginning April 14, 2000, at
the conclusion of which she shall be automatically reinstated.
The Clerk of this Court is directed to provide notice of this order
in accordance with Admis.Disc.R. 23(3)(d) and to provide the clerk of the United
States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the clerk of each of
the United States District Courts in this state, and the clerks of the
United States Bankruptcy Courts in this state with the last known address of
respondent as reflected in the records of the Clerk.
Costs of this proceeding are assessed against the respondent.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.16(d) provides: Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall
take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a clients interests, such
as giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for the employment of
other counsel, surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and
refunding any advance payment of fee that has not been earned. The lawyer
may retain papers relating to the client to the extent permitted by other
Professional Conduct Rule 1.15(a) provides: A lawyer shall hold property of
clients or third persons that is in a lawyers possession in connection with
a representation separate from the lawyers own property. Funds shall be kept in
a separate account maintained in the state where the lawyers office is situated,
or elsewhere with the consent of the client or third person. Other property
shall be identified as such and appropriately safeguarded. Complete records of such account
funds and other property shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be
preserved for a period of five years after termination of the representation. A
lawyer may deposit his or her own funds reasonably sufficient to maintain a
Professional Conduct Rule 3.4(c) provides: A lawyer shall not:
(c) knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal except for
an open refusal based on an assertion that no valid obligation exists.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.1 provides:
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the
legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(a) provides:
A lawyer shall abide by a clients decisions concerning the objectives of representation,
subject to paragraphs (c), (d) and (e), and shall consult with the client
as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer
shall abide by a clients decision whether to accept an offer of settlement
of a matter. . .
Professional Conduct Rule 1.3 provides:
A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.4 provides:
(a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of
a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary
to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(c) provides:
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty,
fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.