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In re Safrin

Supreme Court of Indiana

January 21, 2015

In the Matter of: Ronald A. SAFRIN, Respondent

PUBLISHED ORDER APPROVING STATEMENT OF CIRCUMSTANCES AND CONDITIONAL AGREEMENT FOR DISCIPLINE

Loretta H. Rush, Chief Justice of Indiana

Pursuant to Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 23(11), the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and Respondent have submitted for approval a " Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline" stipulating agreed facts and proposed discipline as summarized below:

Stipulated Facts: Count 1. Respondent maintained two attorney/client trust accounts (" Trust Accounts" ), neither of which were registered as an Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (" IOLTA" ). Respondent did not notify the banks that the Trust Accounts were subject to overdraft reporting to the Commission. On his Attorney Annual Registration Statements from 2008 through 2011, Respondent falsely stated that he was exempt from maintaining an IOLTA.

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Over several years, Respondent shared signatory authority for the Trust Accounts with another lawyer, who stole money from the Trust Accounts. This resulted in overdrafts, which were not reported to the Commission because the accounts were not registered as IOLTA accounts. By failing to properly register the Trust Accounts as IOLTA accounts, Respondent enabled the other lawyer to steal client funds from those accounts.[1]

Count 2. On at least one occasion, Respondent entered into a written fee agreement with a client providing: " We [i.e., the firm] acknowledge receipt of an initial non-refundable retainer fee $ ." At a deposition conducted by the Commission on March 26, 2013, Respondent admitted to charging clients a " nonrefundable retainer fee." However, on May 22, 2013, Respondent denied to the Commission that he ever charged a nonrefundable retainer fee, providing a sample fee agreement that did not contain a nonrefundable retainer provision. He also provided the Commission with an " Errata Sheet" purporting to change his deposition testimony to replace statements regarding " nonrefundable retainers" with " refundable retainers."

The Commission mailed a subpoena duces tecum to Respondent requesting copies of executed fee agreements with 15 named clients. Respondent provided three fee agreements, which did not contain a nonrefundable fee provision, and told the Commission that the other clients' cases did not require a fee agreement. When a staff member of the Commission later spoke to Respondent by phone, Respondent explicitly denied ever having a nonrefundable provision in any of his fee agreements. Respondent's statements that his fee agreements never contained a nonrefundable fee provision were false.

Aggravating and mitigating facts. The parties cite the following facts in aggravation: (1) Respondent has received a prior private administrative admonition; (2) Respondent's misconduct in Count 1 occurred over a three-year period; (3) Respondent committed multiple offenses; (4) Respondent made false statements and engaged in other deceptive practices during the disciplinary process; and (5) Respondent's misconduct delayed the discovery of another attorney's misappropriation of client funds. The parties cite the following fact in mitigation: Respondent received no financial benefit from his misconduct.

Violations: The parties agree that Respondent violated these Indiana Professional Conduct Rules prohibiting the following misconduct:

1.5(a): Making an agreement for, charging, or collecting an unreasonable fee.
1.15(g): Falsely certifying that the lawyer is exempt from the requirement of holding an IOLTA trust account.
8.1(a): Knowingly making a false statement of material fact to the Disciplinary Commission in connection with a disciplinary matter.
8.1(b): Knowingly failing to respond to a lawful demand for information from a ...

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