Attorney suspended for 'pattern of misconduct'

Judges: Stern lacked 'basic competence'

INDIANAPOLIS - An Indianapolis attorney was suspended from practicing law for at least 18 months on Wednesday for demonstrating a "pattern of misconduct," according to court documents.

In a unanimous decision issued July 2, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission chastised attorney Patrick H. Stern for "failing to provide competent representation, representing clients with conflicting interests … and engaging in deceptive practices with a court and the Commission."

Stern, who has practiced law in Indiana since 1987, had previously been disciplined by the court in 2002 for "incompetence and filing frivolous lawsuits."

The latest ruling stems from a 2008 case in which Stern represented an elderly woman who owned a commercial building facing demolition by the city.

According to court documents, the woman, fearing the city would impose upon her some or all of the costs of demolishing the building, hired Stern to represent her.

Stern then drafted a quitclaim deed transferring ownership of the building from his client to a person identified as "JH" – a convicted murderer working for Stern as a "contract paralegal," according to court documents.

Because the city had already issued an unsafe building order on the property, however, the transfer resulted in both Stern's client and contract worker being responsible for demolition and administrative costs.

The city demolished the building in May of 2008 and assessed the woman a fee of $17,200.

Stern then filed two additional lawsuits on behalf of his clients – one of which put the clients directly at odds with one another and created a conflict of interest for Stern. Both were eventually dismissed.

Throughout the proceedings, judges said Stern denied any professional relationship with JH.

In its disciplinary action, the court said Stern exhibited a "pattern of misconduct that included failing to attain minimum competence in representing clients, filing multiple frivolous lawsuits and misleading the court."

The court also noted that Stern had shown a "lack of basic competence in representing himself."

"For instance, he has filed documents that are riddled with typographical and grammatical errors and that are very difficult to understand," according to court documents.

In response to the court's complaint, Stern "failed to respond to some allegations, responded falsely to some, and responded 'denied admitted' to others."

"[Stern] himself could not explain what 'denied admitted' meant," according to court documents.

"In light of his serious deficiencies in representing clients and himself, and his refusal to acknowledge any misconduct on his part, the Court has grave concerns about [Stern's] current fitness to represent clients in the practice of law," the court concluded.

Stern was suspended from practicing law in the state of Indiana for a minimum of 18 months without automatic reinstatement.

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