IN THE MATTER OF: ROBERT E. STOCHEL, Respondent
Attorney Discipline Action Hearing Officer John D. Ulmer.
ATTORNEYS FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION: G. Michael Witte, Executive Secretary, John P. Higgins, Staff Attorney, Indianapolis, Indiana.
All Justices concur.
We find that Respondent, Robert Stochel, committed attorney misconduct by stealing trust account funds belonging to a former law partner and that partner's clients, embezzling funds from a receivership and actively concealing that theft for nearly a decade, and refusing to cooperate with the Commission's investigations into his actions. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be disbarred.
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." Respondent's 1978 admission to this state's bar subjects him to this Court's disciplinary jurisdiction. See Ind. Const. art. 7, § 4.
Procedural Background and Facts
The Commission filed a three-count " Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action" against Respondent on February 17, 2015. Respondent was served by certified mail at his official business address listed on the Roll of Attorneys. Respondent has not appeared or responded in these proceedings. Accordingly, the Commission filed a " Verified Application for Judgment on the Complaint," and the hearing officer took the facts alleged in the verified complaint as true.
No petition for review of the hearing officer's report has been filed. When neither party challenges the findings of the hearing officer, " we accept and adopt those findings but reserve final judgment as to misconduct and sanction." Matter of Levy, 726 N.E.2d 1257, 1258 (Ind. 2000).
Count 1. Respondent was appointed as a successor receiver in a dispute involving joint owners of a supermarket. One of the receivership assets was an account at Centier Bank. Beginning around 2002, Respondent began withdrawing funds from the Centier Account to use, without authority, for his own personal purposes. The Centier Account had a balance of about $330,000 in late 2000; by March 2004, it was entirely depleted. Thereafter, Respondent maintained the account as a zero-balance account, depositing funds into the account as necessary in order to pay the expenses of the receivership and mislead others into
believing the account had sufficient cash assets.
In 2005, the beneficiaries of the receivership reached a mediated settlement agreement based in part on Respondent's false statement to the mediator that the receivership held about $330,000 in cash. Over the next several years, Respondent made several other statements falsely implying the receivership held sufficient funds to satisfy the various distributions, but Respondent stonewalled repeated requests by the beneficiaries' counsel for an accounting.
In September 2010, Respondent filed a Receiver's Final Report and Accounting that contained numerous false statements and line items, including the bottom-line representation that $229,091.97 in cash was available for distribution after payment of expenses and costs. In fact, the Centier Account had closed with a zero balance in March 2010, and as of September 2010 Respondent was holding no receivership funds. One of the beneficiaries' counsel objected to the Final Report and Accounting, and Respondent eventually was ordered to file a supplemental final report and accounting. Respondent did not do so, nor did he comply with ...