FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Steven John Moerlein,
pro se. Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Charles M. Kidd, Staff Attorney
115 West Washington Street, Ste. 1060
Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) Case No. 71S00-9901-DI-56
STEVEN JOHN MOERLEIN )
June 13, 2000
Steven John Moerlein, the respondent in this attorney disciplinary matter, admits that,
after agreeing to pursue a claim on behalf of a client, he thereafter
failed to ever file suit or attempt to obtain any relief for his
client. Later, after the client filed a grievance with the Disciplinary Commission,
the respondent failed to respond to the Commissions demand for information.
This case now comes before us upon the respondents and the Commissions Statement
of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline, entered pursuant to Ind.Admission and Discipline
Rule 23(11)(c). That agreement, which provides that the respondent is
to be publicly reprimanded for his misconduct, is now before us for final
approval. The respondents admission to the bar of this state in
1981 confers our disciplinary jurisdiction here.
The parties agree that in December 1994, a client met with the respondent
in his office to discuss pursuing a claim against a utility company that
she alleged had damaged her septic tank and basement wall while digging a
trench in her yard. The client provided the respondent with photographs, bills,
and other items related to her claim. Although the client never spoke
directly with the respondent again after their meeting, she was kept abreast of
the status of the case each time she called the respondents office for
an update. The respondent never filed suit or obtained a settlement in
regard to the contemplated claim. On May 1, 1997, the client
filed a grievance against the respondent with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.
Despite receiving notice of the grievance, the respondent failed to submit a
response, as required by Ind.Admission and Discipline Rule 23(10)(a)(2).
Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.3 provides that a lawyer, while representing a client,
shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness. By failing to take meaningful
action on his clients contemplated claim after being hired to do so, the
respondent violated the rule. Professional Conduct Rule 8.1(b) provides that a lawyer,
in connection with a disciplinary matter, shall not knowingly fail to respond to
a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority. By failing
to respond to the Commissions demand for response to the clients grievance, the
respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.1(b).
The parties have agreed that the respondent should be publicly reprimanded for his
misconduct. When assessing the adequacy of a proposed sanction, we examine
the nature of the misconduct and any mitigating or aggravating factors. We
also examine the facts surrounding the misconduct, the respondents state of mind, duties
that were violated, the actual or potential injury to the client, and the
risk to the public. Matter of Drozda, 653 N.E.2d 991 (Ind. 1995).
In mitigation, the parties note that in order to provide greater
control over his caseload and to provide better client service, the respondent has
closed his law office in Knox, Indiana, reduced the caseload he maintains in
his South Bend office, and implemented a computer-assisted case management system.
The respondents misconduct is aggravated by the fact that he has been disciplined
by this Court for unrelated misconduct.
Matter of Moerlein, 520 N.E.2d 1275
(Ind. 1988) (public reprimand for engaging in conflict of interest while serving as
prosecuting attorney and for revealing client confidences).
In light of the aforementioned factors, we are persuaded that the proposed public
admonition is appropriate under the circumstances of this case, given the respondents failure
to provide any meaningful action to his client during the representation and his
subsequent disregard for the Commissions authority. Once retained, a lawyer has
a duty to carry through to conclusion all matters related to the representation
unless the lawyer withdraws.
ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Informal
Op. 86-1520 (1986), Matter of Cawley, 678 N.E.2d 1112 (Ind. 1997) (public reprimand
where lawyer failed to pursue action to conclusion after initial filing of complaint
and attempt at mediation).
It is, therefore, ordered that the respondent, Steven John Moerlein, is hereby reprimanded
and admonished for the misconduct set forth above.
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.