In re Wilkins, 49S00-0005-DI-341.

Docket NºNo. 49S00-0005-DI-341.
Citation777 N.E.2d 714
Case DateOctober 29, 2002
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

777 N.E.2d 714

In the Matter of Michael A. WILKINS

No. 49S00-0005-DI-341.

Supreme Court of Indiana.

October 29, 2002.

Ronald E. Elberger, Robert B. Clemens, Bose McKinney & Evans, G. Daniel Kelley, Jr., Thomas E. Mixdorf, Ice Miller, Indianapolis, IN, for the Respondent.

Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary, Charles M. Kidd, Staff Attorney, Indianapolis, IN, for the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.



Attorney Michael A. Wilkins is an experienced appellate practitioner. In a brief supporting a petition for transfer to this Court, he stated that an opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals left him wondering whether the Court of Appeals was determined to find for the adverse party, and whether it then said whatever was necessary to reach that conclusion. We find today that such statements violated Ind.Professional Conduct Rule 8.2(a) and warrant the respondent's suspension from the practice of law in this state.

This case is now before us upon the hearing officer's findings of fact and conclusions of law and the respondent's petition for our review of those findings and conclusions. Where a party petitions this Court for review, we review de novo the record presented us to reach the ultimate conclusion as to misconduct and sanction therefore. Matter of Robak, 654 N.E.2d 731 (Ind.1995). Additionally, the respondent has requested oral argument on the questions presented in his petition for review. We deny that request.

The respondent is an attorney in good standing, having been duly admitted to

777 N.E.2d 715
practice law in this state on October 14, 1988. He is a member of the litigation section in the Indianapolis law firm of Ice Miller and concentrates his practice in family and adoption law, appeals, general litigation, and media law. During 1997, 1998, and 1999, the respondent represented and served as local counsel for Michigan Mutual Insurance in an appeal of an adverse verdict from the Vigo Superior Court. On August 27, 1998, the Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Michigan Mutual Insurance Company v. Sports, Inc., 698 N.E.2d 834 (Ind.Ct.App.1998). The court's opinion affirmed the trial court's verdict and award. Thereafter, primary counsel for Michigan Mutual prepared a draft brief to accompany a "Petition to Transfer" to this Court and forwarded the draft to the respondent. The respondent then edited the draft and "toned down" the tenor of the brief

The respondent believed that Michigan Mutual Insurance Co. v. Sports, Inc. misstated material facts and ignored or misapplied controlling precedent, such that transfer to this Court may have been appropriate under Ind.Appellate Rule 11(B)(2)(c) and (f).1

Footnote 15 of the Court of Appeals opinion states:

Specifically, Michigan Mutual claims the Hopper Agency had "limited authority to bind [it] to coverage and accept premiums on its behalf," but not the authority to "alter policy provisions, appoint subagents, or do anything else that general agents typically can do." Michigan Mutual's Brief at 23. It cites neither authority nor evidence in the record to support the latter proposition.

On September 25, 1998, the respondent signed and filed Michigan Mutual's "Petition to Transfer" and "Brief in Support of Appellant's Petition to Transfer" with the Clerk of this Court. Even though the respondent did not necessarily author the words at issue here (a task admittedly performed by Michigan counsel), the respondent signed the brief pursuant to Ind.Admission and Discipline Rule 3(2)(d), and was therefore "jointly responsible therefore."

The respondent, in the "Petition to Transfer" challenged the Court of Appeals' decision, in relevant part, pursuant to App.R. 11(B)(2)(f), by arguing:

4. The opinion of the Court of Appeals is in error for the following reasons:
A. The opinion erroneously and materially misstates the record by making affirmative misstatements regarding the evidence, which directly affected the court's ultimate conclusion (specific misstatements, and their prejudicial effect on Michigan Mutual, are discussed in the accompanying Brief in Support); [...]

The respondent, in the "Brief in Support of Appellant's Petition to Transfer," amplified his client's position, inter alia with the following statements:

The Court of Appeals' published Opinion in this case is quite disturbing. It is replete with misstatements of material facts, it misapplies controlling case law, and it does not even bother to discuss relevant cases that are directly on point. Clearly, such a decision should be reviewed by this Court. Not only does it work an injustice on appellant Michigan Mutual Insurance Company, it establishes dangerous precedent in several areas of the law. This will undoubtedly create additional problems in future cases.2

2 Indeed, the Opinion is so factually and legally inaccurate that one is left to wonder

777 N.E.2d 716
whether the Court of Appeals was determined to find for Appellee Sports, Inc., and then said whatever was necessary to reach that conclusion (regardless of whether the facts or the law supported its decision)

On March 5, 1999, this Court denied the "Petition to Transfer" and ordered the supporting brief stricken as a "scurrilous and intemperate attack on the integrity of the Court of Appeals...." Michigan Mutual Insurance Company v. Sports, Inc., 706 N.E.2d 555 (Ind.1999).

At disciplinary hearing, the respondent contended that an agency agreement which had been cited to the Court of Appeals in the record, as well as the testimony of two trial witnesses, supported his contention that the Court of Appeals misstated the record and facts in that there was evidence in the record to establish a limited agency as opposed to a general agency. The respondent also cited case law to the Court of Appeals, which he contended the Court of Appeals ignored.

After this Court issued its decision denying transfer, the respondent contacted the office of the John T. Sharpnack, Chief Judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals, and Randall T. Shepard, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Indiana, to schedule meetings with them to offer his personal apology. However, before being able to personally speak with Judge Sharpnack or Chief Justice Shepard, the respondent received the "Request for Investigation" which initiated these disciplinary proceedings, after which he wrote to both Judge Sharpnack and Chief Justice Shepard, offering to apologize in person and to acknowledge that the footnote was "overly-aggressive and inappropriate and should never have made its way into our Brief."

The Commission charged the respondent with violating Prof.Cond.R. 8.2(a) by making statements that he knew to be false, or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity concerning the integrity or qualifications of a judge, or, in this case, a three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals.2

The hearing officer found that the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 8.2(a) by the statements he made in footnote 2, but did not find a violation as to the other quoted sections, concluding that the statements merely paraphrased provisions of App.R. 11(B), governing grounds for transfer to this Court. We turn back to the language used by the respondent in his petition for transfer and supporting brief:

The opinion erroneously and materially misstates the record by making affirmative misstatements regarding the evidence...
The Court of Appeals' published Opinion in this case is quite disturbing. It is replete with misstatements of material facts, it misapplies controlling case law, and it does not even bother to discuss relevant cases that are directly on point.

We note that relevant portions of former App.R. 11(B)(2) provided:

Errors upon which a petition to transfer shall be based may include:
(f) that the opinion or memorandum decision of the Court of Appeals erroneously and materially misstates the record, concisely setting out the misstatement (with reference to the record where appropriate), the materiality of
777 N.E.2d 717
the misstatement and specifically stating the resulting prejudice to the petitioner.

We find that the respondent's statements quoted above,...

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