Covering attorney discipline cases
From the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission
There is a great deal of information available to reporters covering attorney discipline cases. Detailed information about the process and certain documents filed for individual cases can be found online at courts.in.gov/discipline. As the Executive Secretary of the Disciplinary Commission, which is the group that investigates alleged misconduct, I offer the following roadmap to the process. I hope it gives new and experienced reporters an inside look at how the Indiana Supreme Court handles complaints of attorney misconduct.
Official listing of Indiana lawyers
The official listing of Indiana lawyers, known as the roll of attorneys, is available to the public online at courts.in.gov. The section “information for citizens” includes the ability to “look up an attorney’s status with the bar.” It includes the most basic information a reporter may need—contact information and current status with the Court. On the search screen, enter the last name of the lawyer you are interested in (and the city or town where the lawyer practices, if you wish to narrow the search), and you will be given a list of all lawyers with that last name.
Click on the name of the lawyer of interest and you will be directed to a screen that gives you the lawyer’s name, business address, telephone number, and bar admission date. You will also be given the status of the lawyer’s license (such as active, inactive, suspended or on probation) and the date on which the license was placed into its current status.
If the lawyer has been disciplined in the past, a “yes” will appear in the field labeled “Concluded Discipline.” The public, including reporters, can get detailed information about discipline cases that are resolved. If the lawyer has discipline pending, a case number will appear in the field labeled “Pending Discipline.” I’ll explain how you can follow up on concluded and pending cases in a moment, first I want to explain what information the public does not have access to as an investigation is ongoing.
Grievances are confidential
Complaints about lawyer misconduct filed with the Disciplinary Commission, known as grievances, are confidential under rule of the Indiana Supreme Court. So is the Disciplinary Commission’s investigation into grievances. If a grievance is dismissed, the matter remains confidential – even the fact that a grievance was filed or that one was dismissed. If you contact me asking about a matter you believe to be under investigation, you will be disheartened to hear, “I cannot confirm or deny whether any such matter is under investigation.”
If the Disciplinary Commission files a formal complaint after investigation charging a lawyer with misconduct, the complaint and all filings and proceedings thereafter are matters of public record. The only exception is the rare one where the Court or a hearing officer enters a protective order that closes some or all of a case to the public. Depending on how much detail a reporter requires, there are a number of ways to obtain a copy of the public record. While some information is available online instantly, specific documents are more likely to be found in the office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court.
Copies of those documents can be obtained by contacting the Clerk at (317) 232-1930. There is a charge to obtain paperwork from the Clerk’s office.
Sources of information
There are two ready sources of information about concluded discipline against a lawyer. A good deal of information is available from the Clerk of the Supreme Court’s online docket for the case, available at courts.in.gov. On the right side of the screen there is a section called “online services” which allow a user to find the docket. If you already have a case number, you can enter it in the “Search by Case Number” fields. Otherwise, you can enter the lawyer’s last name in the “Search by Litigant’s Last Name” field. (Don’t use the “Search by Attorney’s Last Name” field. For these purposes, a lawyer who is the respondent in a discipline case is a litigant, not an attorney.)
You will receive a list of parties with that last name, followed by their first names in alphabetical order, and the corresponding case numbers. If a case number has the letters “DI” in it, this signifies that it a lawyer discipline case. Once you locate the correct litigant, clicking on the case number will direct you to the docket sheet for that case. A docket sheet is the clerk’s chronological listing of all motions and orders that are associated with that case (trial courts call these chronological case summaries.) If a case has concluded, there will be a docket entry describing the end result of the case.
A second source of information about concluded discipline cases is the actual order or decision that finalizes the case. Orders or per curiam opinions ordering discipline in the form of public reprimand, suspension, disbarment or accepted resignation are published on the Supreme Court’s website here: courts.in.gov/orders/atty-discipline/index.html.
Information about pending cases
A docket sheet provides a lot of valuable information about pending discipline cases. Documents identified in the docket sheet, including the charging complaint and the respondent-lawyer’s answer and defenses, are matters of public record. Again, to obtain the specific documents a reporter needs to contact the Clerk. The docket sheet also identifies the hearing officer in the case and gives scheduling information, such as the date, time and place of the hearing. Hearings in lawyer discipline cases are open to the public, unless they are closed by order of the Court or the hearing officer.
One last point of clarification that the press might find helpful: the Disciplinary Commission does not discipline lawyers. It investigates and prosecutes disciplinary actions. The Supreme Court disciplines lawyers. It is not accurate to report in a story that a lawyer has been suspended from practice by the Disciplinary Commission.
Additional information about lawyer discipline cases is available by contacting the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission at (317) 232-1807.