FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Ronald E. Elberger Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Bose, McKinney & Evans, LLP. Laura Iosue, Staff Attorney
2700 First Indiana Plaza 115 West Washington Street
135 N. Pennsylvania Street Suite 1165
Indianapolis, IN 46204 Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) Case No. 89S00-0105-DI-230
RONALD J. MOORE )
October 17, 2001
Attorney Ronald J. Moore retained for personal use nearly $20,000 in legal fees
in contravention of an agreement which required him to remit such fees to
his law firm. To conceal his misconduct, he lied about the fees
to other attorneys in the firm. Today we approve a Statement of
Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline between the respondent and the Indiana Supreme
Court Disciplinary Commission, which calls for his suspension from the practice of law
for this misconduct. See Ind. Admission and Discipline Rule 23, Section 11.
Having been admitted to the bar of this state in 1997, the respondent
is subject to our disciplinary jurisdiction.
The facts are undisputed. Two months after graduating from law school
in 1997, the respondent was hired as an associate lawyer by a Richmond,
Indiana, law firm. The firm and the respondent agreed that the
respondent would be paid a salary, that all legal work he performed would
be as an agent of the firm, and that all fees he earned
would belong to the firm. The respondents salary was $600 per week
from August 4, 1997, until his bar admission on November 3, 1997; $800
per week from November 4, 1997, through December 31, 1998; $900 per week
for the 1999 calendar year, with a $4,000 year-end bonus; and $1,000 per
week for the 2000 calendar year.
For about 18 months, the respondents duties at the firm included handling criminal
appeals as an appellate public defender for Wayne County. During the course
of the public defender contract, the respondent received $11,900 from Wayne County in
checks made payable to him. The respondent deposited the checks into his
personal bank account and never remitted any of those fees to the firm.
At least twice in 1999, members of the firm confronted the
respondent about the absence of fees from his public defender work. The
respondent told them that he had not been paid yet by Wayne County.
By April 2000, members of the firm became so suspicious of the
respondents assertions that they contacted the Wayne County Auditors Office. They discovered
that the respondent had been receiving payments for the public defender work for
approximately 18 months. On April 13, 2000, members of the firm confronted
the respondent with this information. He admitted he had retained the money.
He also disclosed that he had represented clients charged with drunk driving,
charged each $750 for the representation, and deposited all of the fees into
his personal bank account, instead of turning them over to the firm as
he was required. To avoid detection, the respondent did not enter these
cases into the firms case management system and required the clients pay him
directly. The fees improperly retained by the respondent from the public defender
contract and from the ten drunk driving clients totaled $19,400.
We find that, by his theft of funds that pursuant to agreement belonged
to the law firm, the respondent violated Ind. Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(b), which
provides that an attorney commits professional misconduct when engaging in a criminal act
that reflects adversely on the lawyers honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer
in other respects. We also find that by lying to his colleagues
about those fees, the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c), which provides that a lawyer
commits professional misconduct when engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
Given our finding of misconduct, we must determine an appropriate discipline. The
parties agree that an 18-month suspension from the practice of law is warranted.
In determining appropriate discipline, we consider the misconduct, the respondents state of
mind underlying the misconduct, the duty of this court to preserve the integrity
of the profession, the risk to the public in allowing the respondent to
continue in practice, and any mitigating or aggravating factors. Matter of Mears,
723 N.E.2d 873 (Ind. 2000).
In mitigation, the parties agree that the respondent paid the firm $20,000, which
included the fees he wrongfully retained plus interest, within one month after his
wrongdoing was discovered and before any disciplinary investigation was pending. The respondent
underwent counseling and has satisfied the personal financial obligations which contributed to his
decision to commit the misconduct. Joined by members of his firm, the
respondent voluntarily reported his misconduct to the Disciplinary Commission. He also has
met individually with the judges in Wayne County and with members of the
Wayne County Bar Association to admit his misconduct.
In aggravation, the parties note the respondent planned his conversion of funds and
perpetuated this scheme for at least 18 months by lying about it on
two occasions when members of the firm confronted him. The parties further
agree the respondents actions demonstrate a pattern of misconduct both in terms of
the types of funds he converted -- both public defender contract checks and
funds from ten clients -- and in the repetitive nature of his actions.
The parties also note the respondents actions were motivated by personal financial
stress and occurred shortly after he graduated from law school when he was
earning from $41,600 to $52,000 annually.
In a similar case, we suspended an attorney who retained fees belonging to
the attorneys firm. Matter of Miller, 730 N.E.2d 171 (Ind. 2000).
Given the respondents carefully planned and executed deception in this case, we
conclude that the agreed suspension is appropriate.
Accordingly, the respondent, Ronald J. Moore, is hereby suspended from the practice of
law for not fewer than eighteen (18) months, beginning November 19, 2001, at
the conclusion of which he shall be eligible to petition for reinstatement pursuant
to Admis.Disc.R. 23(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 Clerk of each
of the United States Bankruptcy Courts in this state with the last known
address of the respondent as reflected in the records of the Clerk.
Costs of this proceeding are assessed against the respondent.