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In re Coleman

Supreme Court of Indiana

January 24, 2017

In the Matter of: Narles W. Coleman, Respondent.

         Attorney Discipline Action Hearing Officer Jeryl F. Leach

          Respondent Pro Se Narles W. Coleman Chicago, Illinois

          Attorneys for the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission G. Michael Witte, Executive Director Seth T. Pruden, Staff Attorney Indianapolis, Indiana

          PER CURIAM.

         We find that Respondent, Narles Coleman, engaged in numerous acts of attorney misconduct in connection with his representation of a client and subsequent civil suit against that client, and by committing domestic battery against his wife. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be suspended from the practice of law in this state for at least two years without automatic reinstatement.

         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 "Amended Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action." Respondent's 2002 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 two-count "Amended Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action" against Respondent on July 14, 2014. Following a hearing, the hearing officer filed his report on September 30, 2016. Respondent belatedly filed a "response" to the hearing officer's report on November 7, 2016.[1]

         Count 1. In 2006, "Client" was charged with class C felony child molestation. Shortly thereafter, Client received a letter from Respondent soliciting employment, stating he could give the best possible representation for a reasonable fee. Respondent falsely represented that he was associated with "The Cochran Firm, " originally founded by Johnnie Cochran. In fact, Respondent had minimal experience in criminal law and no experience in child molesting cases. Client agreed to hire Respondent for a flat fee of $4, 000, which Client paid in part. Over the next several months, Client had difficulty communicating with Respondent. Respondent failed to keep Client informed about events in the case; made decisions about the case without consulting Client; failed to appear at a pretrial conference; misinformed Client that results of a polygraph would not be shown to the prosecutor; deceived Client into signing a new fee agreement calling for a fee of $200 per hour; and negotiated a plea agreement without consulting Client, despite Client's prior instructions that he did not want to enter a plea agreement. Client continued to maintain his innocence and refused to sign the plea agreement.

         Following these events, Client fired Respondent and hired new counsel. Respondent did not withdraw his representation or forward a copy of Client's file to new counsel until after a show cause proceeding was initiated against him. The criminal charge against Client ultimately was dismissed.

         Respondent sent Client a bill for over $9, 000 and filed a civil suit to collect the balance owing, including demands for interest of close to 25% per annum. The bill was predicated on the new fee agreement Respondent had induced Client to sign under false pretenses and included inflated hourly billing for various events in Client's case for which Respondent performed minimal or no work and various other activities of little or no value to Client's case. Respondent also sought to collect from Client additional sums for time allegedly spent, and expenses allegedly incurred, in connection with withdrawing from Client's case and filing the civil suit against Client. Client filed a counterclaim. At a deposition of a witness Respondent named, he and the witness concealed the fact that she was his wife. The trial court eventually entered judgment in favor of Client for close to $11, 000. Respondent appealed and filed a motion to compel the court reporter to complete the transcript, even though he had not made payment arrangements. His appeal was dismissed for failure to make payment arrangements.

         Count 2. In October 2012, Respondent was charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of domestic battery stemming from allegations that Respondent struck his wife in the presence of four children. Following a jury trial in July 2013, Respondent was convicted of domestic battery as a class A misdemeanor.

         The hearing officer found the following facts in aggravation: (1) Respondent's acts of misconduct were numerous, continuing, and impacted many people; (2) Respondent's conduct resulted in injuries to Client, the public, the legal system, and the legal profession; (3) Respondent's misconduct involved intentional, knowing, and negligent actions; (4) Respondent's misconduct resulted in both actual and potential harm; and (5) the facts of this case reflect a long-term pattern of serious rule violations. The hearing officer found Respondent's lack of prior discipline to be a fact in mitigation.

         Discussion ...


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