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In re Wall

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 3, 2017

In the Matter of: Justin R. Wall, Respondent.

         Attorney Discipline Action Hearing Officer Robert C. Reiling, Jr.

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT Donald R. Lundberg Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION G. Michael Witte, Executive Director Angie Ordway, Staff Attorney Indianapolis, Indiana

          Per Curiam.

         We find that Respondent, Justin Wall, engaged in attorney misconduct arising from his relationship with a Florida corporation. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be suspended for 30 days with 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 "Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action, " and on the post-hearing briefing by the parties. Respondent's 2008 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 "Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action" against Respondent on September 28, 2015, alleging numerous rule violations arising out of Respondent's relationship with McCann Law Group, d/b/a Consumer Attorney Services, P.A. ("CAS"), a Florida corporation that purported to offer clients services relating to bankruptcy, mortgage modification, and foreclosure defense.

         CAS advertised its services to consumers in Florida and elsewhere, including Indiana, and solicited local counsel in states other than Florida. Under the terms of CAS's contractual arrangements with clients and local counsel, most client work was handled by central staff (including lawyers and nonlawyer assistants) in Florida, with local counsel's involvement generally limited to aspects of the case requiring a local attorney's services. In a typical case, prospective clients would discuss their options with a CAS intake paralegal and then enter into a representation agreement with CAS. CAS typically charged clients an upfront "nonrefundable" fee and, in many instances, ongoing monthly fees.

         In 2012 Respondent signed agreements with CAS, first as an "associate" and later as a "partner, " under which Respondent would provide discrete services to CAS's Indiana bankruptcy and foreclosure defense clients. CAS entered into similar agreements with other Indiana attorneys as well. Respondent received fixed sums for select services, sums that represented only a small fraction of the total fee charged to clients by CAS. As a "partner, " Respondent also received $25 for every case assigned to other CAS-associated attorneys in Indiana as well as minimum wage for 10-20 hours per week as "partner pay."

         Respondent's role in these cases generally was as follows. A CAS paralegal would assign a case to Respondent after the client had signed a representation agreement with CAS. Respondent then would perform a "welcome call" to the client and explain that he would be the "boots in the trenches" for CAS, assisting the client either through mortgage modification services or foreclosure defense. In most instances though, Respondent's sole objective was to get the mortgagee to agree to a modification. CAS's business model contemplated that most document preparation and client communication would be performed by CAS staff in Florida. However, Respondent testified he reviewed all pleadings and made changes where warranted before signing and filing them, and he testified he made himself available to clients above and beyond the "welcome call" CAS paid him to make.

         Following a hearing, the hearing officer issued a report finding against Respondent on some charges, against the Commission on other charges, and leaving still other charges unaddressed. Both Respondent and the Commission have petitioned for review.

         Discussion

         We have examined CAS's business model and arrangements with Indiana attorneys twice before. In Consumer Attorney Services, P.A. v. State, 71 N.E.3d 362 (Ind. 2017), we affirmed the denial of summary judgment for CAS and its principal member in a suit brought by our Attorney General, holding neither defendant was exempt from civil liability under various consumer protection statutes. In Matter of Jackson, 24 N.E.3d 419 (Ind. 2015), we approved agreed discipline for another CAS-associated Indiana attorney. The present case comes to us in a different posture than either of those cases though, and we confine our analysis today to the specific issues, evidence, and arguments now before us.

         The Commission carries the burden of proof to demonstrate attorney misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. See Ind. Admission and Discipline Rule 23(14)(i) (2016). We review de novo all matters presented to the Court, including review not only of the hearing officer's report but also of the entire record. See Matter of Thomas, 30 N.E.3d 704, 708 (Ind. 2015). The hearing officer's findings receive emphasis due to the unique opportunity for direct observation of witnesses, but this Court reserves the right to make the ultimate determination. Id.

         With these considerations in mind, we explore the various Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct alleged to have been violated by Respondent as well as the ...


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