FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Kevin McGoff Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Indianapolis, Indiana 46240 Fredrick Rice, Staff Attorney
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204
IN THE MATTER OF ) ) CASE NO. 49S00-0203-DI-174 SCOTT I. RICHARDSON )
The respondent (under oath) answered none, when in fact he (1) owned certain
investments that he later sold for a $16,849 gain over basis and (2)
he was the president and sole shareholder of an entity doing business as
Indiana Real Estate, Inc.
The Commission alleged that the respondent violated Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 4.4, which prohibits lawyers, during the course of a representation, from using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, for pressing his lawsuit against [the former girlfriend] primarily for the purpose of harassing [her]. The Commission also charged the respondent with violating Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(d), which prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, for his pursuit of the lawsuit. The Commission also charged the respondent with violating Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c), which provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. The basis for that claim is the respondents knowing false answers to the interrogatories.
The hearing officer found that, because the respondents lawsuit proceeded to jury trial upon the former girlfriends demand and because the claim survived pre-trial motions for disposition and a motion for judgment on the evidence, the Commission failed to meet its burden of proof as to Prof.Cond.R. 4.4 and 8.4(d). The hearing officer found that the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c) by answering falsely the interrogatories. Neither party petitioned this Court for review of the hearing officers findings. Where neither party petitions this Court for review, we accept and adopt the hearing officers findings, but reserve final judgment as to misconduct and sanction. Matter of Davidson, 761 N.E.2d 854 (Ind. 2002).
We find that the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 4.4 and 8.4(d), as well as Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c). The former girlfriend, in good faith, attempted several times to ensure the respondent received his property. The respondent nonetheless filed a conversion claim against her. The justification and utility of the respondents claim evaporated once the former girlfriend, after significant effort on her part, returned his property. Instead of agreeing to seek dismissal of his claim, the respondent continued to litigate the lawsuit, using almost all available procedural vehicles to prolong the litigation. His persistence in prosecuting the action served no legitimate purpose and served only to burden his former girlfriend. Accordingly, we find the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 4.4 and 8.4(d). Further, by knowingly providing false answers to her later interrogatories, the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c). The respondent points out that, at the time he answered the interrogatories, the stock he concealed had almost no value. That argument is without merit because the interrogatory question asked whether he owned any corporate interest, regardless of the significance of the interests value.
We now turn to the issue of proper sanction. The hearing officer recommended a suspension of 30 days, but upon a Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(c) violation only. In his memorandum on sanction, the respondent would have us believe that a reprimand is appropriate in this instance. He cites opinions of this Court where attorneys who improperly notarized documents or otherwise misled courts or third parties and were reprimanded. See footnote These cases are distinguishable from the present case because they arose from incidents where lawyers engaged in various deceptions to avoid client harm, inconvenience, or delay, or, at worst, from misguided efforts to obtain an advantage for a client. While not diminishing the gravity of the misconduct in the cases cited by the respondent, we view the respondents acts as more serious. The respondent chose to abuse the legal process, which ultimately led to the imposition of attorney fees against him. He then deceived the adverse party in order to shield his own assets from judgment collection after imposition of attorney fees. In another instance where an attorney untruthfully answered interrogatories, this Court imposed a 60-day suspension pursuant to agreed resolution. Matter of Relphorde, 644 N.E.2d 874 (Ind. 1994). Lawyers are specially situated so as to be uniquely able to inflict harm upon others. The respondent abused his position in doing so in this case, and we therefore find his actions warrant a period of suspension.
It is, therefore, ordered that the respondent, Scott I. Richardson, is hereby suspended from the practice of law for a period of ninety (90) days, beginning September 20, 2003, at the conclusion of which he shall be automatically reinstated to the practice of law.
The Clerk of this Court is directed to provide notice of this order in accordance with Admis.Disc.R. 23(3)(d), to the hearing officer, and to 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.
Costs of this proceeding are assessed against the respondent.
All Justices concur.