|Michael Witte, Executive Secretary|
I would like to talk about everything that happened at the hearing but the case is pending before the hearing officer. We will need to let that process play itself out. I, on the other hand, will speak about what I saw from the Commission yesterday that highlights the need for the Indiana Supreme Court to investigate the operations of the Commission and the disciplinary process.
I have long felt that one of our responsibilities as attorney is to speak out about the need for reform of our legal system. While I have broached many topics for reform in the legal system, many times on this blog, it was not until January of 2011 when I first decided to touch the third rail and publish an article on the disciplinary process. That story included my research that during the last three years when the Disciplinary Commission was headed by Donald Lundberg, 397 of the 400 published disciplinary cases had been against small firm attorneys and sole practitioners. It was just a few months after that story that the relatively new Executive Secretary of the Commission Michael Witte began filing grievances against me which ultimately resulted in the charges that were heard yesterday.
I was constantly assured that this, and other instances of unusual timing, were just "coincidences." The Commission's attorney assured me the DC was only objectively and dispassionately enforcing the disciplinary rules and it wasn't personal to me or because I had criticized the Commission. Events yesterday proved otherwise.
The Disciplinary Commission showed up with about 5-6 attorneys and assistants, most of whom stayed throughout most of the hearing. Of course, the top attorney at the DC, Seth Pruden, was assigned to prosecute my case. The DC had gone to considerable effort to research a six year old, complicated estate case to try to claim, contrary to the my assertion, that the estate was handled properly. The Commission had boxes of evidence on the estate matter. The hearing itself last for 11 1/2 hours with only a few 5-10 minute breaks. It was evident that, contrary to the Commission's claim, the Commission is willing to spend limitless enormous to prosecute me for the allegation that I improperly and inaccurately criticizing a judge in an email as well as my sending an ex parte letter to a judge that obviously wasn't an ex parte communication.
Yet when the Indiana Lawyer asked Disciplinary Commission Executive Secretary Michael Witte
The number one job of the Disciplinary Commission, and where most of the Commission's resources should be devoted, is protecting the public from unethical attorneys. Enormous resources of the DC should not be used to prosecute an attorney for criticizing a judge in an email. Even if resources of the Commission are devoted to that subject, which is highly questionable given it is clearly free speech, those resources should never be increased ten fold because the attorney is a critic of the Commission's leadership and the disciplinary process.
Again, I would renew my call for the Indiana Supreme Court to form a committee to conduct an independent and thorough investigation of the Commission, all its "confidential" files, and the attorney discipline process. I would urge the Court to also hold hearings around the state to solicit input from attorneys about their experiences with the Commission and the disciplinary process in general. Part of this process must be confidentiality given to attorneys who provide information to this investigatory body. Attorneys are terrified they will be the next target if they dare criticize the Commission and its operations. From what I experienced yesterday, that fear is not at all unreasonable.
If the only thing pleasant that comes out of this unpleasant experience is that the Indiana Supreme Court hears my call for reform of the disciplinary process and takes action, it will be worth it.