FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Duge Butler Donald R. Lundberg, Executive
400 Barrister Building Seth Pruden, Staff
155 E. Market Street 115 West Washington Street, Suite 1165
Indianapolis, IN 46204 Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) Case No. 49S00-9808-DI-464
EDWARD E. BROWN )
April 18, 2002
Without the knowledge of his client, attorney Edward E. Brown settled the clients
case for $10,000 and then caused the clients signature to be forged twice
in order to steal the clients $6,664.67 share of the funds. For
six years afterward, Respondent Brown avoided detection by ignoring the clients repeated inquiries
regarding the status of her case. For that professional misconduct and other
violations, we today disbar the respondent.
Our jurisdiction in this case arises from the respondents admission to the bar
of this state in 1970. This proceeding commenced with the Commissions filing
of a three-count complaint, later amended to include a fourth count, alleging professional
misconduct by the respondent. We appointed a hearing officer, who conducted an
evidentiary hearing and submitted her findings, conclusions and recommendation. Neither the Commission
nor the respondent petitioned for review of the hearing officers report. The
case is now before this Court for final review and adjudication. Though
the Courts review is de novo, we accept and adopt the findings of
fact submitted by the hearing officer where the hearing officers report is unchallenged.
Matter of Chavez, 666 N.E.2d 399 (Ind. 1996).
Accordingly, we find under count I that the respondent represented a client in
a dissolution proceeding. At the final hearing, the respondent represented to the
court that he had deposited into his trust account the couples 1994 federal
tax refund check totaling $1,796. The check, issued May 19, 1995, read
VOID AFTER ONE YEAR. On June 12, 1996, the trial court issued
the final decree ordering the respondent to disburse $1,200 of the tax refund
check proceeds to the clients ex-wife immediately. Despite the respondents representations to
the court and the one-year deadline for cashing the check, the respondent did
not deposit the tax refund check into his attorney trust account until July
19, 1996 -- the same day the clients wife filed a grievance against
him with the Disciplinary Commission. The respondent did not distribute the
funds to the clients wife until October 1996, four months after the court
ordered him to do so.
We find the respondent, by failing to deposit the check and disburse the
proceeds promptly, violated Ind. Professional Conduct Rule 1.3. That rule requires lawyers
act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing their clients.
As to Count III,
See footnote we find a woman hired the respondent to represent
her in a personal injury claim arising from an automobile accident seven weeks
earlier. The respondent did not file the clients claim within the two-year
statute of limitations or notify her of that omission. The client hired
a new lawyer to determine the status of the case. The new
lawyer contacted the respondents office several times and, after those calls were ignored,
sent a letter to the respondent terminating the representation and demanding the clients
file. The respondent did not respond.
The client filed a grievance with the Commission and a malpractice suit against
the respondent. The Commission twice sent the grievance to the respondent by
certified mail and demanded a written response. The respondent did not respond.
We find the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.3 by failing to file his clients
personal injury claim timely. He violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.4 by failing to keep
his client reasonably informed about the status of her case, comply promptly with
reasonable requests for information, and explain matters to the extent necessary to permit
his client to make informed decisions regarding the representation. By failing to
surrender his clients file promptly, the respondent failed to take steps to the
extent reasonably practicable to protect his clients interests upon termination of the representation,
in violation of Prof.Cond.R. 1.16(d). We further find the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R.
8.1(b) by failing to respond to the Commissions demand for information.See footnote
As to Count IV, we find the respondent represented a woman in her
claim against her former son-in-law for repayment of a loan. The respondent
and the client agreed the respondents fee would be one-third of any recovery.
The respondent received $10,000 in settlement of that claim prior to March
1992 and deposited those funds into his trust account. He filed a
Release of Judgment in the matter on March 22, 1992.
The respondent did not notify his client of the settlement. Instead, on
October 12, 1993, the respondent prepared a check on his trust account made
payable to the client in the sum of $6,664.67, representing her share of
the settlement funds. Either the respondent or his agent forged the clients
name on the back of the check. The respondent negotiated the check
and used the proceeds to purchase a cashiers check payable to the client.
The respondent or his agent forged the clients name on the cashiers
check. The respondent or his agent deposited all but $164.67 of the
proceeds into a bank account belonging to his wife and him and retained
the remainder in cash.
The client, unaware of the settlement, subsequently called the respondent repeatedly, but he
ignored her calls. After discovering the settlement in 1999, she filed a
grievance with the Commission. The Commission twice demanded a written response from
the respondent, but he failed to respond. At hearing, the respondent testified
he could not remember the circumstances surrounding the deposit of the settlement proceeds
into his personal bank account eight years earlier, although he offered to make
arrangements to repay the client.
We find the respondent, by depositing or arranging the deposit of the clients
funds into his personal account, violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a), which requires lawyers safeguard their
clients funds in a trust account and keep client funds separate from their
own. The respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(b) by failing to disburse to the
client her share of the settlement.See footnote We further find that the respondent,
by committing theft and forgery, violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(b), which prohibits a lawyer from
engaging in criminal acts reflecting adversely on the lawyers honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness
as a lawyer. We further find that the respondent, through his series
of transactions aimed at stealing his clients funds without detection, violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c),
which prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
Given our finding of misconduct, we must determine the appropriate sanction. We
examine the nature of the misconduct, the actual or potential injury flowing from
the misconduct, the state of mind of the respondent, the duty of this
Court to preserve the integrity of the professional, the potential injury to the
public in permitting the respondent to continue in the profession, and mitigating or
Matter of Drozda, 653 N.E.2d 991(Ind. 1995).
The hearing officer recommended immediate disbarment, given the severity of the respondents misconduct,
his repeated lack of cooperation with the Commission, and what she viewed as
an absolute lack of remorse . . . (and) failure to accept responsibility
for these gross violations even during the final hearing.
Disbarment is appropriate in instances of knowing conversion of client funds where the
client is harmed or where a lawyer engages in serious criminal conduct involving
fraud or theft. American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions 4.1,
4.61, 5.11; see also Matter of Shumate, 647 N.E.2d 321 (Ind. 1995) (disbarment
for failure to deliver funds to clients, conversion of client funds, forging settlement
check, neglect, and lack of cooperation in disciplinary proceeding).
In light of these considerations, we conclude that the hearing officers recommendation is
appropriate. It is, therefore, ordered that the respondent, Edward Brown, is hereby disbarred.
The Clerk of this Court is ordered to strike his name from
the roll of attorneys.
The Clerk of this Court also is directed to provide notice of this
order in accordance with Ind. Admission and Discipline Rule 23(3)(d) and 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 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.
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Boehm and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Sullivan, J., concurs in the findings of misconduct but would impose a lesser
The Commission presented no evidence as to count II.
Prof.Cond.R. 8.1(b) prohibits lawyers from knowingly failing to respond to a lawful
demand for information from a disciplinary authority.
Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(b) requires lawyers promptly deliver to their clients funds or other
property the clients are entitled to receive.