Attorney Discipline Action Hearing Officer Michael N. Pagano.
ATTORNEYS FOR THE RESPONDENT: Karl L. Mulvaney Indianapolis, Indiana; Ronald F. Layer Dyer, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION: G. Michael Witte, Executive Secretary, Fredrick L, Rice, Staff Attorney, Indianapolis, Indiana.
We find that Respondent engaged in attorney misconduct bye making false or misleading communications regarding legal services and by failing to include an office address in a public communication. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should receive a private reprimand.
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," and on the post-hearing briefing by the parties. Respondent's admission to this state's bar subjects him to this Court's disciplinary jurisdiction. See Ind. Const. art. 7, § 4.
The American Association of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers, Inc. (" AAMIL" ) is a for-profit Arizona corporation that offers franchise opportunities involving AAMIL's registered trademarks, including " Law Tigers," and other proprietary marks, slogans, and logos (together " trademarks" ). AAMIL's business model involves contracting
with lawyers and law firms throughout the United States, and granting those lawyers and firms licenses for exclusive use of the Law Tigers name and other trademarks owned by AAMIL within certain geographic areas (" territory" ) to promote and market the services offered by AAMIL to the public. Under the terms of the license agreements, these " Licensee" lawyers and firms agree to engage in promoting and marketing the Law Tigers as a service to meet the needs of the motorcycle-riding public, including legal advice and/or representation in connection with claims involving the operation of motorcycles.
On March 15, 2010, Respondent and his firm entered into a license agreement with AAMIL to be an exclusive licensee in Indiana for a term of three years. The Law Tigers' toll-free telephone number service was established by AAMIL and operates under its authority. Under the terms of the license agreement, AAMIL was obligated to ensure that all calls to the Law Tigers toll-free telephone number seeking legal assistance from Respondent's territory were automatically routed directly to Respondent.
In addition, the public could contact Law Tigers through AAMIL's Law Tigers internet website. The website contained a wide variety of information for the motorcycle-riding public, including information about lawyers and firms that AAMIL identified as the Law Tigers source of legal services in the various geographic areas of the United States. The website offered a search function that identified Respondent and his firm as the exclusive Law Tigers source for legal services for his territory.
The Law Tigers website contained examples of previous results obtained by " Law Tigers Motorcycle Accident Lawyers," boasting " Exceptional Results: Settlements and Verdicts." A tab led to " Client Testimonials" from persons who claim to have utilized Law Tigers in seeking advice and/or representation regarding a motorcycle-related legal matter. Such testimonials included: " Law Tigers changed my life in a big way and my family received our fair share of justice." " Law Tigers went above and beyond! The settlement was more than expected!" " The legal services were fast and painless and the best experience I have ever had with lawyers and lawsuits." Although none of the settlements, verdicts, or testimonials related to Respondent, the website did not disclose that they did not relate to Respondent.
Respondent also maintained a separate website for his law firm, which could be accessed through a link from the Law Tigers website. The firm website included a statement that the firm was not permitted to include information about previous results from settlements and verdicts. However, a visitor to the Law Tigers website was not required ...