Discipline Action Hearing Officer Heather A. Welch
ATTORNEYS FOR RESPONDENT Dina M. Cox Neal Bowling Kelly H.
Eddy Indianapolis, Indiana
ATTORNEYS FOR INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION
G. Michael Witte, Executive Director Angie L. Ordway, Staff
Attorney Indianapolis, Indiana
that Respondent, Brent Welke, committed attorney misconduct
by incompetently representing a client, improperly using a
nonlawyer assistant, and knowingly making false statements of
material fact to the Commission. For this misconduct, we
conclude that Respondent should be suspended for at least
three years without automatic reinstatement.
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
disciplinary complaint, and on the post-hearing briefing by
the parties. Respondent's 1991 admission to this
state's bar subjects him to this Court's disciplinary
jurisdiction. See IND. CONST. art. 7, § 4.
Background and Facts
"Client" was charged with murder after fatally
stabbing a man. Client, whose English language skills were
extremely poor, maintained he acted in self-defense. An
experienced public defender initially represented Client,
assisted by an interpreter. As the trial date approached, the
public defender and deputy prosecutor were negotiating a plea
deal that contemplated a plea to voluntary manslaughter and
either a fixed or maximum sentence of 30 years. The public
defender believed that Client would be unable to prevail on a
self-defense argument but that he had a compelling case in
this time, Respondent's nonlawyer assistant, Joseph
Everroad, ingratiated himself with Client's family, told
them the public defender would "sell out" Client,
and - together with Respondent - persuaded them that
Respondent and Everroad could either successfully pursue a
self-defense argument at trial or otherwise obtain a better
plea deal for Client. Client's family hired Respondent and
paid him a $6, 000 retainer, $1, 000 of which was earmarked
for an interpreter. The trial date was continued following
Client's change in representation.
had not previously handled a murder case and had little or no
experience with major felonies. Neither Respondent nor
Everroad had the language fluency to effectively communicate
with Client about his case. Respondent did not hire an
interpreter. Respondent did not meet with Client at the jail
and did little or no work on the case, instead delegating
these tasks to Everroad. During one meeting with Client,
Everroad brought an untrained and unpaid woman who needed
community service credit for her own criminal conviction to
serve as an interpreter, and through that woman Everroad
attempted to assure Client he had a strong self-defense case.
Everroad did not bring an interpreter to other meetings with
Client. Everroad explained the purpose of these meetings was
simply to "just keep [Client] happy so [Respondent]
could get the rest of his money out of the client" and
added "we didn't even talk about the case. We were
talking about other things. Cars - things like that."
(Tr. at 94, 97).
before the trial date, Respondent viewed post-mortem
photographs of the victim for the first time and came to
believe a self-defense or voluntary manslaughter strategy at
trial would be untenable. At a final pretrial conference, the
State offered a plea to voluntary manslaughter with a fixed
sentence of 40 years. Respondent attempted to accept the
offer without consulting with Client, but after Client
complained, the court indicated the matter would proceed to
commenced three days later, on April 11, 2011. Respondent was
not adequately prepared and did not have a defense
interpreter on hand to communicate with Client. During a
recess, using Client's friend as an interpreter,
Respondent communicated the State's latest offer (a plea
to murder with a fixed term of 45 years) to Client and
advised Client to take the deal because his defense was weak.
Client accepted the offer and pled guilty to murder with a
fixed sentence of 45 years.
the Commission's investigation, Respondent falsely told
the Commission that Client was fluent in English and that he
had visited Client in jail several times.
Commission charged Respondent with violating Indiana
Professional Conduct Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4(a)(2), 1.4(b),
5.3(b), and 8.1(a). At the final hearing in this matter,
Respondent contested only the Rule 8.1(a) charge (involving
dishonesty toward the Commission) and admitted the remaining
charges. The hearing officer filed her report to this Court
on April 29, 2019, finding ...