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In re Hudspeth

Supreme Court of Indiana

April 25, 2018

In the Matter of Joseph Patrick Hudspeth, Respondent.

          Attorney Discipline Action Hearing Officer Roger L. Duvall

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT Jennifer M. Lukemeyer Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION G. Michael Witte, Executive Director Seth T. Pruden, Staff Attorney Indianapolis, Indiana

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         We find that Respondent, Joseph Patrick Hudspeth, engaged in attorney misconduct by neglecting clients' cases, making dishonest statements to current and prospective clients, and failing to timely respond to the Commission's demand for information. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be suspended for at least eighteen months 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 "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 four-count "Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action" against Respondent on December 16, 2016, and we appointed a hearing officer. Following an evidentiary hearing, the hearing officer issued his report on January 4, 2018, finding Respondent committed violations as charged.

         Count 1. Respondent was hired in October 2009 by "Clients 1" to pursue claims for disability and/or damages for their daughter, who was injured in a golf cart accident during a high school event. In September 2010 Respondent filed suit against "School" and "Golf Club." Shortly thereafter, School sought discovery (including requests for admission), Golf Club filed for bankruptcy protection, and the court stayed the lawsuit temporarily pending the bankruptcy. Respondent took no action in the bankruptcy to see if the trustee would pursue the claim of Clients 1. Golf Club was granted a discharge in the bankruptcy case in January 2012, after which School renewed its discovery requests. Respondent failed to respond to these requests and to subsequent motions to compel and to deem admissions made, prompting School to file a motion to dismiss. Respondent submitted an untimely response and failed to appear at a hearing on the motion to dismiss, which was reset. Meanwhile, Clients 1 lost all contact with Respondent and were unable to reach him, and they were unaware their case was facing dismissal. Respondent did not appear at the reset dismissal hearing, and the court granted the School's motion to dismiss. Respondent did not notify Clients 1 of the dismissal.

         During these disciplinary proceedings Respondent produced a letter addressed to Clients 1 and dated one day after the trial court's dismissal of the case, in which Respondent deceptively wrote that the case had been dismissed because Clients 1 could not establish 100% liability against School. The hearing officer found that this letter was not sent to Clients 1 but instead was created by Respondent during the disciplinary process.

         Count 2. In 2010 Respondent filed in federal court on behalf of "Client 2" a petition for judicial review of an administrative denial of Client 2's social security disability claim. However, Respondent thereafter neglected the case, resulting in a dismissal of the case in August 2012. Respondent did not inform Client 2 of the dismissal. When asked by Client 2 in September 2013 about the status of the case, Respondent falsely told her suit was pending and it would take months to get a result. Client 2 later called the court directly and learned her case had been dismissed.

         Count 3. Respondent failed to timely respond to the Commission's demands for information regarding a grievance filed by Clients 1, leading to the initiation of show cause proceedings in this Court. Those proceedings eventually were dismissed after Respondent belatedly complied.

         Count 4. Two websites maintained by Respondent falsely represented his experience, specialization, and other aspects of his legal practice. More specifically, Respondent falsely claimed that "he had 35 years of experience in the [social security] industry, " falsely used the plural "attorneys" to describe the members of his firm even though Respondent was a solo practitioner, and falsely claimed to be a specialist in areas of the law ...


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