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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court disbars Kokomo attorney who had abandoned his practice and fled to Australia

In In the Matter of: Bradley D. Hamilton, a 5-page disciplinary opinion where there was "no appearance for the respondent," the Court writes, per curiam:

We find that Respondent, Bradley D. Hamilton, committed attorney misconduct by abandoning his law practice and clients, stealing their money, and fleeing to Australia. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be disbarred. * * *

The eleven counts of misconduct in this case arise from Respondent’s abrupt abandonment of his Kokomo law practice and move to Australia in September 2013, two days after enlisting Brent Dechert as his attorney surrogate. See Admis. Disc. R. 23(27). Counts 1 through 7 each involve particular clients who retained Respondent to file bankruptcy petitions. In each case, Respondent was paid a retainer fee up front, did little or no work on the case thereafter, and eventually absconded to Australia without refunding or making arrangements to refund unearned legal fees. In most of the cases, Respondent was largely unresponsive to client inquiries regarding case progress, and in two of the cases Respondent knowingly misrepresented to the client that a bankruptcy petition had been filed when in fact no petition had been filed. Counts 8 through 10 are similar in nature and involve particular clients who retained Respondent in various non-bankruptcy matters. Finally, Count 11 charts twenty-two additional clients of Respondent identified by Dechert as having been abandoned by Respondent with legal matters still pending, and to whom unearned fees are still owed.

In sum, Respondent was paid a total of $58,366 by the clients identified in these eleven counts. None of these clients’ legal matters were completed by Respondent. The balance in Respondent’s attorney trust account at the time it was turned over to Dechert was $2,060, with no records left indicating to which client or clients that sum belonged. * * *

For a variety of reasons, an attorney may be faced with the need or desire to wind down his or her law practice. Whatever the reason, the attorney’s ethical obligation to protect clients’ interests is clear. Among many other things, key practice management records (such as client files and business and trust accounts) should be in order and reconciled, clients should be notified and kept fully and accurately informed of matters relating to their case, fee issues should be resolved, and appropriate contingency plans for transitioning clients’ cases to successor counsel should be implemented.

Respondent did virtually none of these before absconding to Australia. He did not reconcile his trust account; he looted all but a small portion of it and left behind no records indicating to which client(s) that remaining sum belonged. He did not notify clients of the status of their cases; when clients inquired, Respondent mostly avoided them and in some instances lied to them. Respondent did not refund unearned fees; he stole them. Most clients were not notified of his impending move out of the country, and Respondent continued to accept new clients (and their money) even as the abandonment of his law practice was imminent. Finally, while Respondent did enlist the aid of Dechert as an attorney surrogate, Respondent did so at the last minute and in a manner that precluded Dechert, despite his commendable efforts to triage the harm caused by Respondent, from being able to fully protect the interests of Respondent’s clients.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 24, 2015 11:37 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions