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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court disciplines out-of-state attorney

In In the Matter of: Neil J. GREENE, a 5-0 order filed April 16th and posted yesterday, the Supreme Court writes in part:

Respondent is licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois but not in the state of Indiana. Franciscan Alliance Inc. ("Franciscan") is a nonprofit corporation with its headquarters in Mishawaka, Indiana. Franciscan operates 11 hospitals in Indiana and two in Illinois. In late 2011, Respondent was hired by Franciscan to assist with obtaining payment for medical care provided to patients who had been injured in accidents.

Respondent furnished Franciscan hospitals with his letterhead stationery. The hospitals sent a letter using Respondent's letterhead and his firm's signature block ("Discharge Letter") to injured patients when they were discharged. The Discharge Letter stated that Franciscan had partnered with Respondent "to help you have insurance pay your hospital bills related to the accident." The Discharge Letter stated that this service was provided at no cost to the patient, that an experienced team of patient advocates and attorneys would work with the patient to gather relevant information, and that the team would then contact the proper parties to get the patient's hospital bills paid.

The Discharge Letter obscured the relationship between Franciscan and Respondent, as well as the purpose of Respondent's services, it implied that Respondent was offering the patient a service for which he would normally charge, and it created the impression that Respondent was offering to advocate on behalf of the patient even though Respondent was actually advocating on behalf of Franciscan.

If the patient did not respond to the Discharge Letter, Respondent's practice was to send a second letter, and if necessary, a third letter, with an enclosed questionnaire. In these letters, Respondent indicated that he was acting on behalf of the hospital that had retained his office.

Since the initiation of an investigation by the Commission, Respondent has ceased the use of the Discharge Letter. Respondent has formed Hospital Reimbursement Services Inc.

("HRS") to provide services to Franciscan, discharged patients now receive communications on Franciscan letterhead, and Respondent no longer identifies himself as a lawyer when communicating with patients and third parties in conducting HRS business. * * *

Discipline: The parties propose the appropriate discipline is for Respondent to be indefinitely barred from acts constituting the practice of law in this state, including temporary admission, solicitation of clients, and identifying himself as a lawyer in the course of conducting HRS business in Indiana and/or on behalf of Indiana entities, until further order of the Court, plus the costs of this proceeding. The parties agree that HRS should not be barred from providing medical billing services to Franciscan as long as Respondent does so in circumstances that are distinct from providing legal services to clients.

The Court, having considered the submissions of the parties, now approves the agreed discipline. For Respondent's professional misconduct, the Court bars Respondent from acts constituting the practice of law in this state, effective immediately until further order of the Court, consistent with the terms set forth above.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 22, 2014 08:24 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions