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Veteran defense attorney earns 90-day suspension for failure to refund unearned legal fee

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Larry Rogers

Veteran defense attorney Larry Rogers will be suspended from practicing law for 90 days beginning in December for failing to refund an unearned fee to a defendant and his family in 2015.

The Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion Friday concluding Rogers violated four of the Indiana Professional Conduct Rules by failing to pay back $8,000 to the family of a defendant he agreed to represent on appeal for 2015 murder and battery convictions.

Rogers declined comment Friday. 

Rogers previously told The Times the client was Jose Gutierrez.

Rogers, who did not handle the original trial, said he was approached by Gutierrez to file an appeal on his behalf after he was convicted of the offenses in Lake County. Rogers said he agreed and explained there would be fees for both his legal services and another $6,000 to $8,000 to obtain copies of court transcripts.

Rogers said he received a retainer for his services but never received money for the transcripts, despite sending three unanswered letters to Gutierrez notifying him of the deadline for filing the appeal. Rogers said he did not file the appeal.

The court wrote in its opinion Rogers did not notify his client he had failed to file the notice of appeal and did not communicate with the client for several months. Rogers still has not refunded the money, the opinion states, despite consistently acknowledging it is owed and he is “ready, willing and able” to pay.

Rogers had served his community and profession with distinction for over four decades and previously had an unblemished disciplinary record, the court wrote.

The court was also mindful of the “significant personal hardship” Rogers was experiencing at the time of the defendant's appeal. Rogers told The Times his daughter died during the course of the disciplinary complaint and he suffered a life-threatening illness.

But the court noted Rogers showed a “relative lack of attention” to the disciplinary proceeding and to a contemporaneous proceeding regarding noncooperation with another disciplinary investigation.

The court stated the lack of attention appeared attributable to a heavy caseload, but reminded Rogers, as well as other attorneys, “that although a commitment to helping others is commendable, clients are best served when an attorney has secured his or her own oxygen mask first,” the court noted.

Rogers license will be suspended for 90 days effective Dec. 14. It will not be reinstated until he refunds the $8,000 in full, the order states.

A hearing officer recommended in August the supreme court suspend Rogers' license for 30 days.


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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

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