A lawyer who “politely dared” the Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission to question his personality has been suspended from practicing law in Indiana for 30 days with automatic reinstatement.
Indiana Supreme Court justices in a Friday by curiam order found that Michael C. Steele had committed legal misconduct by improperly requesting that the disciplinary grievances filed against him be withdrawn as a condition of settlement in a civil case. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Steele in 2019, and he has since moved to California.
Steele’s stay order dates back to his 2018 break-up with a former girlfriend, who had obtained a protection order against him before Steele sued her on defamation and other charges. Steele was subsequently charged with charges of criminal harassment and misdemeanor intimidation and harassment, which were dismissed by Hamilton Superior Court in April 2019.
Steele’s ex-girlfriend and his sister also filed disciplinary grievances against him, which were also ultimately dismissed.
Prior to the layoffs, “In December 2018, the Respondent emailed opposing counsel in the defamation case. The respondent’s email requested, among other things, that the disciplinary grievances filed against him be withdrawn as a precondition for settlement discussions, ”says the High Court order of August 6.
“… During its investigation… the Commission became aware of the email that the Respondent sent to opposing counsel in the defamation case, and in July 2019, the Commission filed a disciplinary complaint alleging that the Respondent’s request in that email violated Business Conduct Rule 8.4 (d).
In their order on this complaint, the judges asked a “key legal question”: Can a lawyer’s request that disciplinary grievances filed by an opposing party in a civil case be withdrawn as a condition of settlement be “prejudicial to the law? administration of justice ”within the meaning of Rule 8.4 (d) where such grievances were unfounded?
“Our disciplinary precedent firmly establishes that a coercive threat to file a grievance with the Board, or (as here) a quid pro request that a grievance be withdrawn, violates rule 8.4 (d),” the top concluded. , citing Matter of Ramirez, 853 NE2d 121 (Ind. 2006).
While Steele’s claim was not in fact prejudicial to the outcome of the underlying litigation, and while “having to deal with unfounded disciplinary grievances is certainly understandable”, the High Court found that any attempt to obstructing the investigative process required by rule 23 or using the disciplinary process to take advantage of more favorable terms of settlement is “prohibited”.
He therefore found that Steele had violated rule 8.4 (d) as an accused and suspended him from practicing law in Indiana for 30 days, effective September 17.
In determining its sanction, the High Court refused to “close its eyes” to Steele’s “improper conduct” in the proceedings against commission staff, the hearing officer, the judge in his libel case, and members of the Supreme Court.
“While we do not accept the Board’s request that the Respondent go through the reinstatement process at the end of his suspension, the Board’s submissions regarding the Respondent’s intrusive behavior are well founded and we caution strongly the respondent to behave more appropriately in the future, ”warned the district court. “Failure to do so will likely result in stiffer penalties for any future findings of misconduct.” “
Steele is not authorized to undertake any new legal affairs between service of the notice and the effective date of the stay, and he is to perform the duties of a lawyer suspended under Rule 23 (26 ) admission and discipline.
At the end of his suspension, Steele will automatically be reinstated in the practice of law, as long as there are no further suspensions in effect.
The costs of the proceedings are charged to him in the event of In the Michael C. Steele case, 19S-DI-427.