The fact is this did not need to happen. Victims could have been spared. Losses could have been mitigated. According to the federal criminal court complaint (the precursor to the federal indictment) filed by FBI agent Douglas Kaspar, Conour's scheme to defraud clients stretched back to "at least"
He was once considered a top lawyer, a man whom many knew as one of the best, if not the best, in his field.
Coupled with his millions of dollars in assets — including a 25-room Carmel mansion, a horse farm in Hamilton County, an apartment in Scotland, and expensive collections of wine and artwork — William Conour had it all.
But a different man walked into a federal courtroom in Indianapolis on Thursday. Conour, once one of Indiana’s top construction and accident injury lawyers, will spend the next 10 years in federal prison and will have to pay nearly $7 million in restitution to 36 former clients, a task that could prove to be impossible.
Prosecutors alleged that Conour, 66, bilked his clients out of $6.7 million in settlement money by not depositing the appropriate funds into client trust accounts.
He ran a Ponzi scheme for more than a decade, prosecutors said, spending money he won for clients’ legal settlements, then attempting to replace the missing funds with proceeds from subsequent settlements.
|Catherine A. Nestrick, Chair|
Details of the FBI's investigation into Conour's trust account are spelled out in Kaspar's affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint. It was filed on April 27, 2013. The DC knew long before the filing of the criminal complaint what the FBI had uncovered in its investigation. Yet it was not until May 24, 2013 when Conour was ready to resign from the bar that the DC finally filed charges against Conour.
When questioned by the Indiana Lawyer about the failure to pursue Conour, Disciplinary Commission Executive Secretary Michael Witte pleaded a lack of resources:
...Witte said building a case against Conour took time, as evidenced by the federal court information alleging that Conour’s actions date to 1999. It took years for the FBI to make the case, he said, and the commission has far fewer resources.Perhaps the Commission would have a lot more resources if Witte did not exercise such extremely poor judgment on which cases he has the Commission pursue. During my 11 1/2 hour disciplinary hearing a couple months ago, I saw the Commission using at least six staff members, who had gathered boxes of evidence from a six year long estate case in which I was involved, all in an effort to prosecute me for the dastardly offense of unfairly criticizing a judge in private emails.
“The most difficult part about this is that the rules of confidentiality sometimes hamstring us from being able to use outside resources and exchange information,” he said. “I can’t just pick up the phone and call the FBI and say, ‘We’ve got a case against a lawyer.’
“The only thing we can do is utilize our own investigation resources to pursue our own independent investigation,” Witte said. That includes one full-time investigator and 12 staff attorneys who handle about 1,200 complaints per year.
Which is the bigger offense, an attorney stealing millions from clients or an attorney criticizing a judge in an email? Given where he devotes the Commission's limited resources, it is clear that Witte, who had been a judge for 25 years before being appointed Executive Secretary, believes that protecting his former colleagues from criticism should be the top priority of the Commission.
|Trent McCain, |
While the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously confirmed the recommendation of a 30 day suspension by the Barker's hearing officer, questions should still be raised whether the Commission should have devoted such resources in pursuing the case in the first place. One would think that a priority should be placed on serious rule violations, violations where the attorney's conduct reflects a lack of ethics, especially when that unethical behavior threatens the public. Yet those are not the priorities of the Commission under Witte. Even being convicted of a felony involving dishonesty won't mean a disciplinary charge by the Commission. Criticize a judge though and you very well may find yourself charged by the Commission with a disciplinary violation.
Witte, who is an appointee of former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, needs to be fired or at least ushered off to much needed retirement. But the individual members of the Disciplinary Commission should also be held responsible for the misplaced priorities of the Commission. They collectively have shown exceedingly poor judgment in their role on the Commission. Attorneys and the general public needs to know who the members of the Disciplinary Commission members are and to demand they make the priorities of the Commission the pursuit of unethical attorneys who threaten the public:
Catherine A. Nestrick, Chair
Berry Plastics Corporation
William Anthony Walker, Vice Chair
Attorney at Law
Nancy L. Cross, Secretary
Cross, Pennamped, Woolsey & Glazier, P.C.
Andrielle M. Metzel, Treasurer
Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP
Trent A. McCain
McCain & White, PC
R. Anthony Prather
Barnes &Thornburg LLP
Leanna K. Weissmann
Attorney at Law