Former Lake County clerk could lose law license

2013-04-02T17:15:00Z 2013-04-02T23:42:03Z Former Lake County clerk could lose law licenseBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
April 02, 2013 5:15 pm  • 

State officials have begun the process of suspending the law license of former Lake County Clerk Thomas Philpot in the wake of his conviction for public corruption.

The Indiana Disciplinary Commission, an agency of the Indiana Supreme Court, will seek suspension of Philpot's future ability to practice law in the state. The request comes one month after a federal judge confirmed his conviction on felony theft and mail fraud charges.

G. Michael Witte, executive secretary of the Disciplinary Commission, said Tuesday that Philpot will be notified the Indiana Supreme Court is prepared indefinitely suspend his law license. He will have 15 days to oppose it if he chooses.

Witte said he cannot comment on the specifics of Philpot's case. However, he said the state's disciplinary rules for attorneys are designed to protect the reputation of the profession from public reproach by preventing convicted felons, especially those in prison, from practicing law.

It is only the latest misfortune to befall the 55-year-old former public official, who surrendered two weeks ago at a federal prison in Milan, Mich., to begin serving his 18-month sentence.

He rose to prominence with electoral victories in 1992 and 1996 as county coroner, in 2002 and 2006 as county clerk, and again as coroner in 2008. He also conducted two campaigns for Hammond mayor in the 1990s and for county sheriff in 2010.

A federal grand jury indicted Philpot in 2011 for stealing thousands in federal dollars earmarked to improve the collection of court-ordered child support payments. He gained access to the money while serving as county clerk. The clerk's office processes child support checks from noncustodial parents.

Philpot returned the money after the scheme became public. He claimed he was unaware state law made him ineligible to pocket the money without permission from the county's fiscal officials — which he never sought. He claimed he acted on bad advice from his lawyer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson convinced a federal jury last fall that Philpot was a lawyer and should have known he was violating the law.

Philpot was admitted to the practice of law in 2001 and campaigned for the office of county clerk on the grounds he was a lawyer and his opponents weren't.

The Times reported in 2005 Philpot regularly appeared in court representing private clients instead of his clerk's office during regular business hours.

Philpot also held a professional license in Indiana as a podiatrist, but allowed it to expire the same year he became a lawyer.

Witte said Philpot, like any lawyer convicted of a felony, faces the possibility of permanent disbarment. He said disciplinary rules neither forbid or guarantee readmission to law practice.

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