FOR THE RESPONDENT
Robert G. Williams, pro se
FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPINARY COMMISSION
Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Fredrick L. Rice, Staff Attorney
115 West Washington Street, Suite 1165
Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) CASE NO. 55S00-9805-DI-283
ROBERT G. WILLIAMS )
March 19, 2002
Lawyer Robert G. Williams persistent and pervasive neglect of his clients cases leads
us to conclude today that he should be disbarred from the practice of
This case is now before us for final resolution upon the hearing officers
findings of fact and conclusions of law, submitted after full evidentiary hearing on
the Disciplinary Commissions six-count verified complaint for disciplinary action charging Respondent Williams with
lawyer misconduct. Where neither the Commission nor the respondent petitions this Court
for review of those findings, as they are permitted to do under Ind.Admission
and Discipline Rule 23(15), we may adopt the hearing officers factual findings while
reserving final judgment as to misconduct and sanction. Matter of Campbell,
702 N.E.2d 692 (Ind. 1998).
The respondent, who practices in Morgan County, was admitted to the Bar of
this state in 1970. The hearing officers findings relative to the complaints
six counts describe the respondents pattern of neglect of his clients cases:
Count I: After initiating a claim for damages on behalf of a
client, the respondent failed thereafter to respond to opposing counsels discovery requests or
to file witness or exhibit lists. The respondent also failed to abide
by the trial courts discovery orders or to pay opposing counsels attorney fees
as ordered. He failed to respond to his clients inquiries about the
case, did not withdraw from representation when she demanded his withdrawal, and, without
the clients consent, proceeded to act as her attorney at trial.
Count II: After initiating a workers compensation claim for a client, the
respondent failed to respond to the opposing partys discovery requests, failed to communicate
with the client about the case, and failed to reduce his contingency fee
agreement to writing. When the client eventually fired the respondent, the respondent
failed to acknowledge his termination and did not return to the client requested
case file materials to which she was entitled. Although the Commission
later demanded from the respondent a response to the clients grievance, the respondent
failed to provide any response.
Count III: The respondent represented a criminal defendant on an appeal of
his conviction. The defendants prison sentence had been stayed pending prosecution of
the appeal. After initiating the appeal, the respondent filed three successive petitions
for extension of time during which to file the record. The Court
of Appeals order granting the third extension noted that it was the Final
Extension. Nonetheless, the respondent then filed a motion for a fourth extension,
which was granted. The respondent finally submitted the record, albeit several weeks
past the fourth extended filing deadline and with errors requiring its return to
the respondent. Due to its tardiness, the court marked the record received,
and not filed. The respondent then filed a motion for leave
to file a belated appeal. Although the court granted that motion, the
respondent again failed timely to resubmit the record, resulting in the appeals dismissal.
The trial court ordered the defendant, who had been unable to contact
the respondent to learn anything about the case, to surrender to begin serving
his sentence. The respondent filed a second motion for leave to file
a belated appeal, which the Court of Appeals granted. The respondent subsequently
filed proof with the trial court of the belated appeals initiation, resulting in
the defendants release. The respondent then filed three successive motions for extension
of time to file the appellants brief. The courts order granting the
last one noted that is was a Final Extension. Undeterred, the respondent
filed a fourth request for extension, which the court denied and which prompted
the trial court to again order the defendant taken into custody.
The defendant, unable to contact the respondent, hired another lawyer who managed to
secure permission to file yet another belated appeal. Because that lawyer was
unable to persuade the respondent to turn over the record, the court of
appeals issued an order to show cause why the respondent should not be
held in contempt. Later, when the Commission demanded the respondents response to
the defendants grievance, the respondent failed to comply.
Count IV: While pursuing a medical malpractice claim on behalf of a
client, the respondent failed to make arrangements with a medical expert to provide
an opinion to support the claim. The result was that the
court granted the defendants motions for summary judgment. The respondent failed
to advise his client that the defendants prevailed on summary judgment. Instead,
he proceeded to seek medical records as if the case was still active.
Between late 1997 and March 1998, the client attempted to contact the
respondent to learn about the status of the case, but the respondent never
responded. He likewise never responded to the Commissions two demands for
response to the clients grievance.
Count V: The respondent and a client met in March and April
1997 regarding her claim the client wanted to pursue against an auto dealer.
Between April 1997 and early 1998, the client was unable to contact
the respondent to learn of the status of her case. The client
subsequently filed a grievance with the Commission, which demanded a response from the
respondent. He never responded.
Count VI: Although the respondent adequately represented a client in a land
dispute case up to the point when a land transaction settlement was agreed
to, the respondent failed to make final arrangements for the transaction or to
notify the parties why the transaction could not be scheduled. Both the
respondents clients and the opposing party attempted repeatedly between the spring of 1997
and the spring of 1998 to learn from the respondent why the meeting
had not been scheduled. The respondent never replied. Later, the respondent
failed to respond to two Commission demands for response to the grievance the
respondents clients filed against him.
We find that the respondent violated Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(a) by failing to
abide by his clients objectives of representation; Prof.Cond.R 1.3 by failing to act
with reasonable diligence and promptness; Prof.Cond.R. 1.4 by failing to keep his clients
adequately informed about the status of their cases, failing to respond to their
requests for information, and failing to explain matters to the extent reasonably practicable
to allow them to make informed decisions regarding their cases; Prof.Cond.R. 1.5(c) by
failing to reduce a contingency fee agreement to writing; Prof.Cond.R. 1.16(d) by
failing to take reasonable steps, upon termination of representation, to protect the interests
of his clients; Prof.Cond.R. 1.16(a)(3) by failing to withdraw from representation after being
discharged by his client; Prof.Cond.R. 3.2 by failing to expedite litigation consistent with
the interests of this clients; Prof.Cond.R. 3.4(d) by failing to comply with legally
proper discovery orders; Prof.Cond.R. 8.1(b) by failing to comply with a lawful demand
made by a disciplinary authority; Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c) by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty,
fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation; and Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(d) by engaging in conduct that was
prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The hearing officer found several matters aggravating the respondents misconduct. She noted
that the respondent has been disciplined before by this Court for similar misconduct.
Matter of Williams, 461 N.E.2d 1121 (Ind. 1984) (suspended for not fewer
than two years for neglect of client matters causing damage to clients); reinstated
at 535 N.E.2d 1158 (Ind. 1989). The hearing officer pointed out
that the respondent failed to appear at two of three scheduled pre-trial hearings
in this disciplinary matter, and that he did not appear at final hearing.
Finally, the hearing officer found that the respondent was obstructive in
the Commissions efforts to prosecute this case by refusing to claim or accept
mail sent in connection with this case. The hearing officer recommended that the
respondent be suspended for 180 days with any reinstatement conditioned upon successful petition
before this Court. The Commission has filed a memorandum regarding proper discipline,
arguing that the deceptive element attendant to some of the respondents misconduct, coupled
with serial nature of his neglect and his manifestations of disdain for the
disciplinary process, warrants at least a three-year suspension.
We are not bound by the hearing officers recommended sanction. Matter of Clifford,
665 N.E.2d 907 (Ind. 1996); Matter of Rajan, 526 N.E.2d 1185 (Ind. 1988).
We agree with the Commission that the sheer breadth of the
respondents misconduct warrants severe discipline. Serial neglect by lawyers of their clients'
legal affairs indicates grave professional shortcomings activating this Court's obligation to protect the
public from unfit practitioners. Matter of Roberts, 727 N.E.2d 705 (Ind.2000).
Adding to that the damage the respondent inflicted upon his clients and his
refusal to participate meaningfully in the Commissions prosecution of this case, we conclude
that severe discipline is warranted. In cases of similar misconduct, we have
imposed sanctions designed to protect the public from the offending lawyers acts.
Matter of Ransom-Radford, 746 N.E.2d 977 (Ind. 2001) (disbarment for 14 counts of
neglect and abandonment of practice), Matter of Drozda, 653 N.E.2d 991 (Ind. 1995)
(suspension for not fewer than 3 years for 13 counts of client neglect
and failure to refund unearned fees), Matter of McGrath, 626 N.E.2d 449 (serial
neglect of client matters and knowing deceit of clients warranted disbarment, in light
of lack of any mitigating factors).
In light of these considerations and precedent, we find that the respondent, Robert
G. Williams, should be disbarred as well. The Clerk is directed to
strike his name from the Roll of Attorneys.
The Clerk of this Court is further directed to provide notice of this
order in accordance with Admis.Disc.R. 23(3)(d), to provide notice of this order to
the Hon. Judith Hawley Conley, 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.
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson and Boehm, JJ., concur.
Sullivan and Rucker, JJ., dissent, believing the sanction too severe for the misconduct.