Atanga, Matter of, 49S00-9307-DI-801

Docket NºNo. 49S00-9307-DI-801
Citation636 N.E.2d 1253
Case DateJune 30, 1994
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana


The Respondent, Jacob A. Atanga, is charged in this proceeding with professional misconduct under the Rules of Professional Responsibility. The Disciplinary Commission of this Court asserts that Respondent violated Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 3.4(c), by knowingly disobeying an obligation of a tribunal when he failed to appear at a scheduled hearing; violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.4(d), by engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.2(a), by making a statement with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.

As provided under Ind.Admission and Discipline Rule 23, a Hearing Officer conducted a hearing on the above-noted charges and, now, has tendered for this Court's approval his findings of fact and conclusions. Respondent petitions this Court for review of the Hearing Officer's report. The Respondent and the Commission have submitted briefs on their respective positions.

Respondent challenges several conclusions recommended in the Hearing Officer's report and the findings of fact underlying such conclusions. This Court is not bound by the recommended facts and conclusions. Our review is de novo on the record. In re Levinson (1992), Ind., 604 N.E.2d 599; In re Smith (1991), Ind., 579 N.E.2d 450. Respondent's challenges to the tendered findings of fact will be considered in this process of review.

Upon consideration of the matters which are before this Court for review, we now find that Respondent immigrated to the United States from Ghana, West Africa when he was seventeen years old; he was thirty-six years old when he completed law school and had been practicing law for two years when the events in this case occurred. Respondent is a sole practitioner. He has office space and the partial service of a receptionist in the office of another lawyer in Indianapolis.

On October 29, 1991, in Tippecanoe Superior Court 1, Kim L. Lucas was charged and pled not guilty to dealing in cocaine and for being an habitual offender; Lucas requested a public defender and the omnibus hearing was set for December 16, 1991. Respondent entered his appearance for Lucas on November 12, 1991, and filed a motion to reduce bond. This motion was set for hearing on November 14, 1991. At this hearing, Respondent learned that his client also was facing a proceeding for the revocation of probation under a 1989 conviction for robbery. The revocation hearing had been scheduled by former counsel for Lucas and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Norris Wang for hearing on December 6, 1991. Both criminal matters were before the same judge of the Tippecanoe Superior Court, the Honorable Donald C. Johnson.

Upon being advised of existence of a proceeding for the revocation of probation, Respondent entered his appearance. At the November 14, 1991, hearing on the dealing/habitual for bond reduction, Respondent and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Kern, by agreement, rescheduled the probation revocation hearing for December 4, 1991, at 2:30 p.m. The change was necessitated by a conflict in Respondent's schedule; he had a firm commitment to represent another individual at a hearing in Marion County.

On November 22, 1991, Respondent filed a motion in the dealing/habitual case to have his client transported to a doctor in Lafayette for medical attention. Three days later, on November 25, 1991, Wang orally moved at an ex parte hearing to reschedule the probation revocation proceeding back to December 6th in that the State's toxicologist witness had been previously subpoenaed for that time and was not available on December 4, 1991. The oral motion was granted and the hearing was scheduled for December 6, 1991, at 3:00 p.m. The motion to transport Lucas was also set for this time. The clerk was directed to send a copy of the order to Respondent and to the defendant, Lucas. The judicial event was recorded in the Chronological Case Summary (CCS) for the Dealing/habitual case, but was not entered in the CCS for the probation revocation proceeding.

On December 4, 1991, Wang appeared in the probation revocation proceeding, without prior notice to Respondent, and orally moved that the revocation hearing be rescheduled to December 6th. This motion was granted and the clerk was directed to forward a copy of the order to Respondent. This judicial event was recorded in the CCS for the probation revocation proceeding. Additionally, the court reporter telephoned the receptionist in Respondent's office and informed her of the decision of the court. On December 5, 1991, Respondent filed a petition for a thirty day continuance by reason of the conflict he noted in the prior hearing. The continuance was denied and the court reporter telephoned this information to Respondent. Respondent told the court reporter that he would not appear because of the previously noted conflict. About fifteen minutes later the trial judge telephoned Respondent who again stated that he could not attend the December 6th hearing. The judge told Respondent that if he did not appear, he (the judge) would hold the Respondent in contempt.

On December 6, 1991, Respondent did not appear. Lucas declined to continue without counsel and the hearing was aborted. The trial court judge found that the Respondent was "duly notified" and entered an order for Respondent to appear at 12:00 p.m. on December 16, 1991, "to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for his failure to appear." This order was delivered to Respondent's office by certified mail on December 9, 1991. Respondent did not appear on December 16, 1991, as ordered and a writ of attachment was issued by the trial court. Again, the motion for transportation was continued at the request of Respondent's client. Respondent did have a conflicting setting in Marion County at 1:30 p.m. in a matter critical to the welfare of his client and family.

Respondent was arrested at his office on December 19, 1991, and held in the Marion County jail overnight. The next morning he was transported to Tippecanoe County where he was fingerprinted, photographed, and provided prisoner attire. Personal effects were confiscated at that time. A local attorney, at the request of others, appeared for Respondent. Respondent was advised by his attorney that if he offered an apology, "everything would be okay." Respondent's attorney also stated that the trial judge wanted Respondent's client present so she could observe the proceedings. Respondent agreed to the requests of the trial court.

The hearing was conducted in an auxiliary courtroom at the jail. The judge, deputy prosecutor, Respondent's client, the court reporter, onlookers from the prosecuting attorney's office and several reporters were present at the hearing. Respondent apologized through his attorney and promised to faithfully attend all future hearings called by the court. The court accepted the apology and purged Respondent from contempt on the condition that he pay the transportation costs. Following the contempt proceeding, while Respondent was still wearing his jail assigned clothing, the court heard the motion to transport his client for medical consultation. The court granted the motion to transport on the condition that no costs would be paid by the county. The petition to revoke probation and the omnibus hearing on the Dealing/Habitual case were rescheduled for future dates.

The following day the Lafayette Journal & Courier published a factual account of the contempt hearing. Several days after the article, Respondent was contacted by the volunteer editor of the Graffiti Times, a monthly publication of the local chapter for the American Civil Liberties Union, having a circulation between 5,000 to 10,000 in the area. An interview was conducted and the following matter appeared in the January 1992 issue of the Graffiti Times:

"Atanga made no effort to hide his feelings about Johnson. He said, 'I think he is ignorant, insecure, and a racist. He is motivated by political ambition.' Antanga considers that the errors and omissions in the record are part of a systematic effort to confuse the defense and to cover up the Judge's actions. He emphasizes that the situation in Johnson's court is very different from the norm. Most judges are intelligent, hard-working, fairminded men and women, he says, but in Johnson's court, the Judge is part of the prosecution. He mentioned the many functions that Deputy Prosecutor Wang performs for the Judge and the Judge's willingness to grant virtually automatic continuances for the prosecution, but none for the defense. Atanga made light of the time he spent in jail and what he considers Johnson's obvious attempt to humiliate him. Atanga says that he will not be intimidated by Johnson's 'Judicial Tyranny;' instead his 'determination to fight for the constitutional rights of my client has only been increased.' "

The article in the Graffiti Times accurately reflected the comments made by Respondent during his interview with the editor.

The Hearing Officer concluded that the Respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct as charged in the complaint filed in this matter. As noted above, Respondent challenges the Hearing Officer's conclusions in this regard. Respondent's contentions will be addressed under each of three alleged rule violations presented in the complaint.

Respondent is charged with violating Prof.Cond.R. 3.4(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which provides that a "lawyer shall not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal except for an open refusal based on an assertion that no valid obligation exists." Respondent argues that he was not...

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12 cases
  • St. John v. Town of Ellettsville
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • 5 Enero 1999
    ...acts with knowledge that the defamatory statement was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. In re Atanga, 636 N.E.2d 1253, 1259 n. 1 (Ind.1994) (citing Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 94 S.Ct. 2997, 41 L.Ed.2d 789 (1974)); Chang v. Michiana Telecasting ......
  • State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Radcliff
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 28 Mayo 2013
    ...defamation actions against news media, they apply with equal force in defamation actions against non-media defendants. In re Atanga, 636 N.E.2d 1253, 1259 n. 1 (Ind.1994); see also Francis M. Dougherty, Annotation, Defamation: Application of New York Times and Related Standards to Nonmedia ......
  • In re Rimsat, Ltd., Bankruptcy No. 95-10120.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Seventh Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • 2 Octubre 1998
    ...perceived transgressions of other participants in litigation." Matter of Fisher, 684 N.E.2d 197, 199 (Ind.1997). See also Matter of Atanga, 636 N.E.2d 1253 (Ind.1994) (lawyer who knowingly disobeyed an obligation of a tribunal violated the Rules of Professional Conduct despite the "troublin......
  • In re Wilkins
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 3 Enero 2003 mistaken. More to the point, the question is one of respondent's state of mind and of respondent's conduct. See, e.g., In re Atanga, 636 N.E.2d 1253, 1257 (Ind.1994). "What did Respondent know at the time he made the statements ... ? Did he have a basis upon which to make statements conc......
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2 firm's commentaries
  • Lawyers Beware: Criticizing Judges Can Be Hazardous To Your Professional Health
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 3 Febrero 2022
    ...was upheld because his words disrupted the courtroom and undermined the "dignity and authority of the court"), Matter of Atanga, 636 N.E.2d 1253, (Ind.1994)( referring to judge as "ignorant, insecure, and a racist" violated Rule 8.2(a) because "there [was] no basis upon which to conclude th......
  • Lawyers Beware: Criticizing Judges Can Be Hazardous To Your Professional Health
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • 3 Febrero 2022
    ...was upheld because his words disrupted the courtroom and undermined the "dignity and authority of the court"), Matter of Atanga, 636 N.E.2d 1253, (Ind.1994)( referring to judge as "ignorant, insecure, and a racist" violated Rule 8.2(a) because "there [was] no basis upon which to conclude th......

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