FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
R. Stephen LaPlante Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
915 Main Street Seth T. Pruden, Staff Attorney
Evansville, IN 47732 115 West Washington Street, Ste. 1060
Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) Case No. 82S00-9612-DI-790
RONALD WARRUM )
March 10, 2000
When attorney Ronald Warrum went before the Vanderburgh Superior Court on behalf of
his client seeking increased child support and restricted visitation, he failed to notify
that court of an existing Utah decree, known to him, which already governed
those post-dissolution matters. We find that his failure to notify
the Indiana court of the Utah decree was prejudicial to the administration of
This attorney disciplinary case comes before this Court upon the duly-appointed hearing officers
findings of fact and conclusions of law. In that report, the hearing
officer found misconduct and recommended that the respondent be publicly reprimanded.
Pursuant to Ind.Admission and Discipline Rule 23(15), the respondent has petitioned this Court
for review of the hearing officers report, therein challenging certain findings contained therein.
Where the hearing officers report is challenged, our review of the
de novo, and we examine the entire record in determining misconduct
and discipline therefore. Matter of Hampton, 533 N.E.2d 122 (Ind. 1989).
The respondents admission to the bar of this state in 1966 confers our
jurisdiction in this matter.
Within that review context, we now find that a couple married in 1982,
had a child in 1983, and lived in the state of Utah until
their separation in 1984, after which the wife moved to Evansville with the
child. On March 21, 1985, the couple was divorced by order issued
by the Fourth District Court, Millard County, Utah. The decree awarded
custody to the wife and ordered the husband to pay child support of
$50 per month.
After moving to Evansville, the wife received Assistance for Dependent Children from Vanderburgh
County and assistance in collecting her Utah support pursuant to a Uniform Reciprocal
Enforcement of Support Act action filed by the Vanderburgh County prosecutor. In
1991, the former wife petitioned the Utah court for an increase in her
former husbands child support obligation. While the contemplated Utah modification was pending,
she hired the respondent in July 1992 to secure additional support and to
restrict her former husbands visitation with the child. On July 31,
1992, the respondent filed a complaint in the Vanderburgh Superior Court seeking an
order for child support, child custody and visitation, or a modification thereof (hereinafter
the Indiana case).
The complaint did not mention the Utah decree,
did not mention the terms or conditions of the Utah decree, and did
not set forth the former husbands current child support obligation as a consequence
of that decree. Also, the complaint failed to mention that matters
relating to support were pending before the Utah court. At hearing of
this disciplinary case, the respondent testified that he knew of the Utah decree,
but not that a motion for modification of it was pending. He
took no action to learn the details or status of the Utah decree.
After the former husband was notified of the Indiana case, he contacted the
respondent by telephone to provide information about his employment and income. In
September 1992, the former husbands attorney wrote to the respondent, asking why there
was an Indiana proceeding. The respondent did not reply. Initial hearing
on the respondents complaint was held in Vanderburgh Superior Court on November 30,
1992. The former wife appeared with the respondent, but the former husband
did not. The respondent provided the court with a child support income
calculation and requested restriction of the former husbands visitation. The respondent did
not mention the Utah decree, its terms, or the pending modification thereof.
Two weeks later, the Vanderburgh Superior Court adopted the respondents proposed entry
of judgment which ordered the former husband to pay $77.40 in weekly child
support pursuant to the Indiana Child Support Guidelines and which restricted the former
husbands visitation to supervised visits only. A wage withholding order was
sent to the former husbands employer in Utah. The Vanderburgh Superior Courts
judgment did not mention the Utah decree or how it was to be
modified, despite the fact that the respondent testified at disciplinary hearing that, by
his Indiana case, he was attempting to modify the Utah decree. The order
of judgment issued by the Vanderburgh Superior Court effectively became a second decree
of child support for the former husband.
No one in Indiana notified Utah authorities of the Vanderburgh Superior Courts decree.
Although the husband continued to pay his Utah support, he did not
pay support pursuant to the Indiana order, and an arrearage accumulated. The
former wife later asked the Vanderburgh County prosecutor to assist her in collecting
the overdue support. Although the prosecutors office had a reciprocal action pending
with Utah with respect to the support obligation of the first Utah decree,
neither that office nor the Utah authorities knew of the Vanderburgh Superior Courts
order until informed of it by the former wife. With knowledge of
the order, the Vanderburgh County prosecutor intercepted at least three of the former
husbands tax refund checks to satisfy the Indiana arrearage. The former husband,
being in compliance with the Utah order, complained to Utah authorities.
Child support authorities of Utah and Indiana conducted a complete investigation of the
matter. Utah authorities were concerned that Indiana had issued a second support
order when no transfer of the case from Utah to Indiana had ever
been made. Indiana authorities could not understand why Utahs support obligation
was so low. The governors offices in each state became involved,
as did a U.S. senator from Utah and the Family and Social Services
Administration of Indiana. A dispute arose over which state had jurisdiction and
what the true amount of the support should be. To resolve it,
officials from both states met before a mediator in Chicago. That mediation
was unsuccessful, and certain disputes between the states still existed at the time
of the disciplinary hearing of this matter. In 1994, the petition to
modify the Utah decree to provide additional support was granted, and the Vanderburgh
County prosecutor moved to dismiss the Indiana support judgment, although still contending that
a valid Indiana arrearage existed.
Although the respondent asserted in his complaint that Indiana had jurisdiction of the
former husbands support and visitation by virtue of Ind.Code 31-1-11.6
(Indianas Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Law),
he failed to submit an affidavit required
by that law to inform Indiana courts of previous child custody proceedings.
He also admitted at disciplinary hearing that he was aware at the time
he filed the Indiana case of a possible jurisdictional dispute in light of
the Utah decree.
Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(d) provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer
to engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The respondents failure to inform the Indiana court of the Utah decree led
to competing orders, duplicitous litigation in Utah and Indiana, and a protracted controversy
between states as to which child support/visitation order should control. Considerable resources
of both states were expended, first in addressing similar issues of support and
visitation, then in trying to resolve the conflict between the states.
The respondents unfortunate failure to disclose the Utah decree to the Indiana
court was completely contrary to the letter and spirit of Indianas Uniform
Child Custody Jurisdiction Law, which was to [a]void litigation of custody decisions of
other states and this state so far as feasible, and to [f]acilitate the
enforcement of custody decrees of other states; and [foster] mutual assistance between the
courts of this state and those of other states concerned with the same
child. See I.C. 31-1-11.6-1, repealed by P.L. 1-1997, SEC. 157. That
the respondents actions so thoroughly frustrated the purpose of the UCCJL, wasted judicial
resources, and led to an interstate conflict clearly demonstrates that he engaged in
conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Accordingly, we find that the
respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(d).
The respondent argues that party opponents (in this case the former husband) have
no standing to institute disciplinary proceedings. He bases this assertion on language
in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct:
The fact that a rule is a just basis for a lawyers self
assessment, or for sanctioning a lawyer under the administration of a disciplinary authority,
does not imply that an antagonist in a collateral proceeding or transaction has
standing to seek enforcement of the Rule. (Emphasis added).
The respondents argument is without merit. The very language he cites
provides that the disciplinary rules are a just basis for a disciplinary authority
to sanction a lawyer. Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 23(10)(a) provides that
a member of the public, a member of this bar, a member of
the commission, or a Bar Association may submit a grievance to the Disciplinary
Commission. The collateral proceeding reference in the Preamble is clearly intended to
encompass litigation other than disciplinary actions.
Having found misconduct, we now turn to the issue of appropriate sanction.
The hearing officer recommended that the respondent be publicly admonished for his
actions. We agree. The evidence clearly and convincingly demonstrates that the respondent
knew of the Utah decree at the time he litigated the Indiana case,
but neglected to advise the Indiana court of it or its terms.
By that failure, the respondent deprived the Indiana judge of the opportunity to
apply the provisions set forth in Indianas UCCJL, caused unnecessary litigation in this
state, and set the stage for an interstate conflict ultimately consuming the resources
of high state officials. Because of his insult to the administration of justice
and its significant consequences in this case, we conclude that a public reprimand
is appropriate.See footnote
It is, therefore, ordered that the respondent, Ronald Warrum, is hereby reprimanded and
admonished for this his misconduct.
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 Federal District Courts in this state, and the clerk of the
United States Bankruptcy Court 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 respondent.
The full text of the complaint is as follows:
Comes now [former wife] and for her claim against [former husband] says:
1. [Former wife] is the mother of . . .a minor
child born on March 10, 1983.
2. [Former wife and minor child] reside at . . . Evansville,
Indiana and have resided in Indiana since April, 1984.
3. [Former husbands] last known address was at . . . Sandy
4. Petitioner requests an order of support, child custody and visitation, or
modification thereto, all pursuant to Title 31.1-11.5 and/or 11.6.
Repealed by P.L. 1-1997, SEC. 157.
The hearing officer found that the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 3.3(a)(3), which
provides that a lawyer shall not knowingly fail to disclose to a tribunal
legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly
adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel.
Although it is clear that the respondent knew of the authority
of the Utah decree, his failure to disclose its existence to the Indiana
court did not violate the rule because the order was not adverse to
his clients position. The Utah decree provided child support for the clients
child and set visitation restrictions, thereby providing benefits not adverse to his clients
position in the Indiana proceeding. We therefore conclude that the
Commission failed to demonstrate that the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 3.3(a)(3).
We note that in a similar case, where the gravamen of
the lawyers misconduct was failure adequately to disclose pertinent matters to a court,
a public reprimands was ordered. Matter of Mullins, 649 N.E.2d 1024 (Ind.
1995) (failure to disclose parallel intrastate court proceedings).