Attorney disciplined for failing to pay client portion of jury award

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Per Curiam.

This matter is before the Court on the report of the hearing officer appointed by this Court to hear evidence on the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission’s “Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action” against each of the Respondents, Kevin W. Marshall (“Mar-shall”) and C. Jerome Smith (“Smith”), and on the post-hearing briefing by the parties. Marshall’s 1987 admission to this state’s bar and Smith’s 1957 admission to this state’s bar subject them to this Court’s disciplinary jurisdiction.  We find that Respondents Marshall and Smith engaged in attorney misconduct by failing to promptly pay a client the portion of a jury award to which the client was indisputably entitled. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondents should receive a public reprimand. We find the Commission has not met its burden of proof with respect to other charges of misconduct.

Conclusion (slip op. at 8):  We find that Respondents violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.15(b) (2004) by failing to promptly release to Client funds indisputably owing to him. For this misconduct, the Court imposes a public reprimand.

Key Analysis (slip op. at 6, 7):  A lawyer may not hold funds to which a client is indisputably entitled to coerce the client into accepting the lawyer’s contention in a dispute over attorney fees . . . There is little authority on the scope of an attorney’s duty to produce documentation in complying with the duty to render a full accounting to a client. The hearing officer concluded and we agree that the attorney’s duty “includes a full accounting of the attorney’s billing statements, including hours spent under hourly contracts.” Of course, when the parties are operating under a contingent fee agreement, billing statements would typically not include a tally of hours spent as this would be irrelevant to the fee calculation.

About Bose McKinney & Evans LLP

Bose McKinney & Evans LLP is a business law firm, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, serving both publicly held and privately held businesses, governmental entities and high-growth industries. Our clients include Fortune 100 companies, international manufacturers, national and regional financial institutions, agribusinesses, sports teams, university-incubated start-ups, media, utilities, cities and schools, to name a few. We strive to build strong relationships with our clients as key business advisors, to exceed expectations in the quality of our work, to be knowledgeable about our clients’ businesses and sectors, to be responsive to service needs and to continually seek to improve the delivery of client services. Our ultimate focus is on our clients.
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