FOR THE RESPONDENT
Robert W. Hammerle
500 Place, 501 Indiana Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46202
FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPINARY COMMISSION
Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Charles M. Kidd, Staff Attorney
115 West Washington Street, Suite 1060
Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) CASE NO. 49S00-0006-DI-392
VINCENT LEE SCOTT )
December 15, 2000
Before this Court adopted a rule prohibiting a disbarred or suspended lawyer from
maintaining a presence or occupying an office where the practice of law is
conducted, respondent Vincent Lee Scott hired a disbarred lawyer to work in his
law office. Under the guise of the respondents supervision, the disbarred
lawyer subsequently engaged in acts constituting the unauthorized practice of law and which,
if committed by the respondent, would have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct
for Attorneys at Law. For that, along with the respondents own violations
of the rules, we find the respondent guilty of attorney misconduct.
This attorney disciplinary matter is now before us for final resolution upon a
Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline tendered for our approval by
the respondent and the Disciplinary Commission. The respondents admission to the bar of
this state in 1990 confers our jurisdiction in this case.
The verified complaint for disciplinary action underlying the parties agreement contains fifteen counts,
pursuant to which the respondent has admitted misconduct. The gravamen of the
respondents own direct misconduct is that he agreed to represent various clients in
criminal and civil matters, then failed to take sufficient action or any action
at all on their behalves, failed to keep his clients adequately informed as
to the status of their legal matters, and failed to refund to them
unearned fees or return to them case file materials to which they were
entitled. As to these counts, we find misconduct as charged.
Pursuant to allegations contained in Count II of the verified complaint, the parties
agree that in March 1996, the respondent hired a former lawyer disbarred by
this Court in 1988 to work as his paralegal and, later, as manager
of his law office. It is agreed that the respondent hired the
disbarred lawyer to assist him in developing his family law practice, and that
the respondent viewed himself as the disbarred lawyers supervisor, although he did not
actually supervise the disbarred lawyers activities or ever develop an express or written
description of the disbarred lawyers duties. Under Counts II, IV, V, X,
XI, XIII, and XIV, it is agreed that in this employment capacity the
disbarred lawyer counseled or served as the main contact with clients regarding various
legal matters, including a dissolution, a petition for post-conviction relief, a claim alleging
violation of civil rights, an auto accident case, a claim by purchasers of
real estate alleging latent defects, a personal injury case, and a discrimination claim.
Under each of these counts, the respondent and the disbarred lawyer neglected
the clients cases by failing to file or adequately pursue the contemplated causes
of action and/or by failing to communicate adequately with the clients about their
Current law prohibits any disbarred or suspended lawyer from maintaining a presence or
occupying an office where the practice of law is conducted. Admis.Disc.R. 23(26)(b),
effective February 1, 1998. A person suspended for more than six months
or disbarred shall take such action as is necessary to cause the removal
of any indicia of lawyer, counselor at law, legal assistant, law clerk or
similar title. Id. However, the respondent hired the disbarred lawyer in March
of 1996, before adoption of the current rule.
Professional Conduct Rule 5.5(b) provides that a lawyer shall not assist a person
who is not a member of the bar in the performance of activity
that constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. The rule does not
prohibit a lawyer from employing the services of paraprofessionals and delegating functions to
them, so long as the lawyer supervises the delegated work and retains responsibility
for the work. Comment to Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 5.5. It is
clear that the actions taken by the disbarred lawyer went beyond activities delegated
to him in any capacity as a paraprofessional and in fact constituted the
unauthorized practice of law. See Matter of Fletcher, 655 N.E.2d 58, 60
(Ind. 1995) (practice of law includes giving legal advice and counsel and placing
oneself in the very sensitive relationship wherein the confidence of the client and
the management of his affairs is left totally in the hands of the
attorney) (other citations omitted). The parties stipulate that the disbarred lawyer counseled those
who had come to the respondents office for legal assistance. The respondent
did not directly supervise the disbarred lawyers work (as is required had the
disbarred lawyer been serving only as the respondents paraprofessional), although the respondent viewed
himself as the disbarred lawyers supervisor. What the respondent did was
permit the disbarred lawyer to use the respondents law office as a venue
to meet with the respondents clients to counsel them regarding their legal affairs.
Accordingly, we find that the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 5.5(a).
Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 5.3(c) provides that:
a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of nonlawyer assistants employed or
retained by or associated with the lawyer where that conduct would be a
violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer
the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the
conduct involved; or
the lawyer is a partner in the law firm in which the person
is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person, and knows of
the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated
but fails to take reasonable remedial action.
We find that the respondent, based upon the neglect committed by the disbarred
lawyer employed by him, violated Prof.Cond.R. 5.3(c).
The parties agreement calls for the respondents suspension from the practice of law
in this state for a period of at least 18 months. We
find the agreed discipline to be appropriate in this case given the pattern
of client neglect and the respondents facilitating a disbarred lawyer in resuming the
practice of law.
It is, therefore, ordered that the respondent, Vincent Lee Scott, is hereby suspended
from the practice of law for a period of not fewer than eighteen
(18) months, effective immediately, at the conclusion of which he will be eligible
to petition this Court for reinstatement.
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.
Specifically, we find that the respondent violated Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 1.1
(failure to provide competent representation), Prof.Cond.R. 1.2(a) (failure to abide by clients objectives
regarding representation), Prof.Cond.R. 1.3 (lack of reasonable diligence and promptness), Prof.Cond.R. 1.4(a) (failure
to keep clients reasonably informed about the status of their legal matters), Prof.Cond.R.
1.5(c) (failure to reduce a contingency fee to writing), and Prof.Cond.R. 1.16(d) (failure
to protect clients interests after termination of representation).
The parties agreement contains no specific facts indicating that the respondent
knew of the disbarred lawyers neglect at a time when its consequences could
have been mitigated or avoided and that he failed to take reasonable remedial
action, as required by the rule for misconduct to be found. However, because
the respondent has agreed that such a violation took place, we find those
elements implicit in the facts of this case.