FOR THE RESPONDENT
Richard L. Roberts
Attorney at Law
7732 Chaterley Court, Suite E
Indianapolis, IN 46214
FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPINARY COMMISSION
Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
D. J. Mote, Staff Attorney
115 West Washington Street, Suite 1060
Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) CASE NO. 49S00-9906-DI-330
RICHARD L. ROBERTS )
May 1, 2000
The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission brought formal charges alleging that attorney Richard
L. Roberts neglected the legal matters of seven clients, failed to communicate with
them about their legal affairs and, after termination of his representation of them,
failed to refund unearned legal fees. The Commission and Roberts have tendered
a written agreement acknowledging misconduct and accepting suspension from the practice of law.
That agreement is before this Court for final approval
Our jurisdiction in this matter is a result of the respondents admission to
the bar of this state on June 3, 1985. We note
however, respondent has been suspended since May of 1999 for failure to comply
with Continuing Legal Education requirements.
Under Count I of the verified complaint underlying this action, the parties agree
that a client hired the respondent to file a petition for dissolution of
marriage. The client initially paid $350 of an agreed $700 fee.
In June of 1998, the client visited the respondents office to sign a
dissolution petition which the respondent had prepared, and paid an additional $100 towards
the fee. The respondent informed the client the dissolution would be complete
after 60 days. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to reach the respondent by
telephone, by the end of July 1998 the client had received no communication
from him about the case. The respondent never filed the dissolution petition
and failed to refund any portion of the fee he received from the
As to Count II, the parties agree that in the spring of 1998,
a client paid the respondent $300 to represent him in a post-dissolution matter
initiated by the clients former wife. On May 18, 1998, the respondent
notified the former wifes attorney that he was representing the client. On May
28, 1998, the respondent entered his appearance. The court set hearing
for June 24, 1999, but the respondent failed to inform the client of
the date. The respondent appeared at the June 24, 1998, hearing, but
the client, unaware of the proceeding, did not. The respondent then obtained
a continuance until August 26, 1998, but again did not inform the client
of the hearing date.
During June 1998, the client attempted several times to contact the respondent by
telephone, but was unsuccessful. The client filed a grievance against the respondent
on July 31, 1998. On August 26, 1998, the respondent did not
appear for the continued hearing in the clients case. The client,
unaware of the hearing, likewise failed to appear. The court continued the
hearing until September 23, 1998, and specifically ordered all parties to appear, sending
notice to the respondent. The respondent did not inform the
client about the September 23 hearing date and as a result the client
did not appear on that day. Further, the respondent also himself
failed to appear for the hearing. The former wife and her counsel
appeared, and the court, finding the respondent had been served with notice of
the hearing, entered an order modifying the clients dissolution decree without argument from
the respondent or his client. The client, unable to communicate with
the respondent, hired another attorney to seek modification of the courts September 23,
1998, order. The respondent failed to refund any portion of the fee
he received from the client.
Under Count III, the parties agree that in October 1996, a client hired
the respondent to file a petition for dissolution of marriage. The respondent
informed the client that he would not file the petition until the agreed
fee of $400 was paid in full. The client began making payments
to the respondent and by early 1997 had paid the entire fee.
On April 2, 1997, the respondent filed a dissolution petition in the Lake
Superior Court. On September 2, 1997, the parties filed stipulated provisional orders
that were approved by the court. Thereafter, for nearly one year, the
client heard nothing from the respondent concerning the status of her dissolution.
She attempted to contact the respondent during the summer of 1998, but the
respondent did not respond. After the provisional orders were filed on September
2, 1997, the respondent took no further action to complete the clients dissolution.
Eventually, the client hired another attorney and paid an additional $300 in
legal fees to complete the dissolution. The respondent never refunded any portion of
the fee he received from the client.
As to Count IV, the parties agree that a client paid the respondent
$400 to seek a court order emancipating a child for whom the client
had a support obligation. The client heard nothing from the respondent after paying
the $400, despite her repeated efforts to contact him, both by telephone and
letter. The respondent rendered no legal services on behalf of the client,
and failed to refund any portion of the fee received.
On August 17, 1998, the client filed a grievance against the respondent.
On August 19, 1998, the Commission sent a letter notifying the respondent of
the grievance and demanding a written response within twenty days. The respondent
failed to respond. On October 8, 1998, the Commission sent, by certified
mail, return receipt requested, a second demand for a written response to the
clients grievance. The respondent received and signed for the certified mail on
October 9, 1998, but again failed to respond.
Under Count V, the parties agree that in the spring of 1997 a
client agreed to pay a fee of $900 to the respondent for his
representation of her during a dissolution action. The respondent filed the petition
for dissolution in the Lake Superior Court on August 15, 1997, and the
court entered a provisional order. By November of 1997, the client had
paid the respondent $750 towards the agreed fee. After November 1997, reconciliation
appeared possible between the wife and husband, holding prosecution of the dissolution in
abeyance. However, by the fall of 1998, the client again decided to
go forward with the dissolution and attempted to contact the respondent. The
respondent failed to communicate with the client in any way, failed to complete
the dissolution, and failed to refund any of the fee received from the
client for the dissolution.
In Count VI, we find that in the fall of 1998, a client
hired the respondent to file a bankruptcy petition on her behalf. The
client paid the respondent approximately $700 and turned over her bills and the
original documents associated with her debts. Thereafter, despite several attempts by the
client to reach the respondent by telephone, the client was unable communicate with
him. The respondent neither filed a bankruptcy petition for the client nor
returned any portion of the fee paid to him for that purpose.
The client was forced to hire another attorney to complete her bankruptcy.
With regard to Count VII, the parties agree that in November of 1993,
a client hired the respondent to file and prosecute a trespass action concerning
real estate the client had purchased at a tax sale. The respondent
filed a complaint on behalf of the client in the Lake Superior Court.
In March 1994, the city of Gary filed a condemnation action in
the Lake Superior Court, naming the client as a defendant, in order to
acquire the tax sale property that was the subject of the previous trespass
action. The respondent appeared for the client. In June 1994, a
Report of Appraisers was filed in the condemnation action, to which the respondent
objected and countered with a request for jury trial. In May 1996,
the city took possession of the property after making payment to the Lake
County Clerks office. After May 1996, the respondent did nothing further on
behalf of the client in the condemnation action.
In December of 1997, the clients trespass action settled, with the defendants agreeing
to pay a total of $7,000 plus costs. The settlement was reported
to the court on January 21, 1997, and the court ordered the respondent
to file an agreed judgment against the defendants to reflect the settlement agreement.
The respondent failed to file the agreed judgment, and did nothing further
on the clients behalf in the trespass action. The court set the
trespass action for a show cause hearing on July 30, 1998, pursuant to
Ind.Trial Rule 41(E). The respondent failed to appear at the show cause
hearing or otherwise protect the clients interests, and the case was dismissed for
lack of prosecution.
In the fall of 1998, the client tried to reach the respondent by
telephone to discuss the status of both the trespass and condemnation actions.
The respondent failed to communicate with the client concerning either case.
Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(a) requires lawyers to abide by their clients decisions
regarding the objectives of representation.
See footnote The respondent violated that rule by
his general failure to take action on his clients behalves. Specifically, he
failed to file his clients dissolution and bankruptcy petitions, failed to obtain a
requested emancipation of a child, and failed to complete a dissolution proceeding.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.3 requires lawyers to act with reasonable diligence and promptness
when representing their clients.See footnote The respondent violated that rule in Counts I,
II, III, IV, VI, and VII by his failure to file requested dissolution
and bankruptcy petitions, his failure to complete pending dissolutions, his failure to appear
at post-dissolution hearings, his failure to obtain a requested emancipation of a child,
his failure to take action on the condemnation action, and his failure to
file an agreed judgment in the clients favor.
In all seven counts, the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.4(a) by his failure to
keep clients reasonably informed about the status of pending matters, his failure to
promptly comply with clients reasonable requests for information, and his failure to respond
to his clients attempts to contact him.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.4(b) requires that lawyers explain matters to their clients to
the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding
the representation.See footnote The respondent violated that rule by his actions
in Counts I, II, III, IV, and VI because in each instance he
abandoned representation of his clients interests without prior notification or consultation with the
client. His failure to notify a client about a hearing set
in a post-dissolution matter also violated the provision.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.16(d) provides that lawyers, upon termination of representation, shall take
steps to protect the interest of their clients.See footnote Under all seven
counts, the respondent violated the rule by failing, in whole or in part,
to refund to his clients any portion of the retainer fees and, in
one instance, by failing to return to the client case file materials to
which the client was entitled.
Under Count IV, the respondents failure to respond to the Commissions lawful demand
for information violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.1(b).See footnote
The Commission and the respondent have agreed that the respondents conduct warrants a
suspension from the practice of law for a period of not less than
one year. Among the factors this Court weighs when considering proposed
discipline are mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
Matter of Christoff and Holmes 690
N.E.2d 1135 (Ind. 1997). The only factor offered in mitigation here
is the fact the respondent has not been the subject of previous disciplinary
Serial neglect by attorneys of their clients affairs indicates grave professional shortcomings activating
this Courts obligation to protect the public from unfit practitioners. Generally, habitual
indifference to professional obligation necessitates that an individuals fitness to practice law should
be closely scrutinized. Accordingly, in similar cases involving patterns of neglect of
clients cases and attendant failure to communicate, this Court has coupled a period
of suspension with the requirement that the respondent affirmatively demonstrate to this Court
his or her fitness to reenter the profession. See, e.g., Matter of
Golding, 700 N.E.2d 464 (Ind. 1998) (nine-month suspension without automatic reinstatement for an
attorney found to have neglected the legal affairs of five clients); Matter of
Barnes, 691 N.E.2d 1225 (Ind. 1998) (six month suspension without automatic reinstatement for
three counts of client neglect); Matter of Toth, 684 N.E.2d 493 (Ind. 1997)
(failure to take action on behalf of clients and failing to refund unearned
fees coupled with other misconduct resulted in suspension of one year without automatic
In the present case, based upon the multiple instances of the respondents failure
to provide even the most basic legal services to his clients, we find
that the agreed sanction of a one-year suspension without automatic reinstatement is appropriate.
The respondent neglected to appear at hearings, failed to file pleadings, and
couldnt manage to comply with a court order, all of which were detrimental
to his clients interest and often resulted in additional unnecessary legal expense for
the clients. Even the simplest professional requirement, communicating with his clients, was
beyond the respondents ability. Our requirement that the respondent demonstrate his
fitness to resume the practice of law after the initial one-year period of
his suspension expires will ensure that other clients are not subjected to the
It is, therefore, ordered that Richard L. Roberts is hereby suspended from the
practice of law for a period of one (1) year, beginning June 5,
2000. At the conclusion of this period of suspension, the respondent may petition
this Court for reinstatement pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 23, Section 4.
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.
Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(a) provides:
A lawyer shall abide by a clients decisions concerning the objectives of representation
. . . and shall consult with the client as to the means
by which they are to be pursued.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.3 provides:
A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.4(a) provides:
A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a
matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
Professional Conduct Rule 1.4(b) provides:
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 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 entitles 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 law.
Professional Conduct Rule 8.1(b) provides:
[A] lawyer . . . in connection with a disciplinary matter, shall not:
(b) . . . knowingly fail to respond to a lawful demand
for information from an admissions or disciplinary authority . . .
Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 23(4)(b) provides the conditions that an petitioner
for reinstatement must demonstrate in order to become readmitted to the bar of
this state after suspension for ethical misconduct:
(b) A petition for reinstatement may be granted if the petitioner establishes by
clear and convincing evidence before the disciplinary commission of this Court that:
(1) The petitioner desires in good faith to obtain restoration of his privilege
to practice law;
(2) The petitioner has not practiced law in this State or attempted to
do so since he or she was disciplined;
(3) The petitioner has complied fully with the terms of the order for
(4) The petitioner's attitude towards the misconduct for which he or she was
disciplined is one of genuine remorse;
(5) The petitioner's conduct since the discipline was imposed has been exemplary and
(6) The petitioner has a proper understanding of and attitude towards the standards
that are imposed upon members of the bar and will conduct himself or
herself in conformity with such standards;
(7) The petitioner can safely be recommended to the legal profession, the courts
and the public as a person fit to be consulted by others and
to represent them and otherwise act in matters of trust and confidence, and
in general to aid in the administration of justice as a member of
the bar and an officer of the Courts;
(8) The disability has been removed, if the discipline was imposed by reason
of physical or mental illness or infirmity, or for use of or addiction
to intoxicants or drugs;
(9) The petitioner has taken and passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
with a scaled score of eighty (80). The MPRE shall be taken
after the term of suspension or resignation has elapsed, and after the suspended
or resigned attorney has met the requirements of Section 26 of this Rule.
However, if the period of suspension is for one (1) year or
less, the MPRE may be taken within six (6) months of the date
the petition for reinstatement is filed.
Given the respondents administrative suspension from the practice of law based on
his noncompliance with Continuing Legal Education requirements, he must also cure those deficiencies
before gaining readmission to the bar.