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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 1:00 am

Local lawyer gets 9-month suspension

Indiana Supreme Court rules misconduct in alleged scheme

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The Indiana Supreme Court suspended Fort Wayne lawyer Robert John Wray for what the high court said was a long-running scheme that involved using middlemen without legal training to find new clients. 

The arrangement and other misconduct – including lying to clients and investigators – violated more than a dozen professional conduct rules and guidelines for admission and discipline, justices wrote in a 12-page ruling handed down Tuesday.  

The decision to suspend Wray, who practices under the name John Wray, for at least nine months comes after the Supreme Court reprimanded him and two other attorneys in 2009 for deceptive advertising and improper use of a trade name, the ruling says. 

“One would have hoped our reprimand would have prompted (Wray) to consider his ethical obligations and business practices more carefully,” the decision from Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justices Steven David, Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter said. 

Justice Christopher Goff did not participate. 

Reached at his office, Wray said he hadn't seen the ruling. He said he was not expecting the ruling Tuesday afternoon, calling it “a total surprise.”  

At issue was an arrangement to solicit new clients that grew from lawsuits filed by Wray against installers, builders and manufacturers of modular or manufactured homes. The owner of one of the allegedly defective homes, Douglas Stephan, became a conduit between potential new clients and Wray, the ruling said. 

The scheme involved cold calls to homeowners from Stephan – who is not a lawyer – for home inspections. He would then ask owners to sign legal documents that included Wray's name and work out financial agreements, according to the ruling. 

That and similar arrangements allegedly went on for years, but the ruling does not specify a time frame. 

The Supreme Court said Wray failed to keep adequate records from 2008 to 2015 and did not keep clients informed. 

Stephan acted alone and Wray merely accepted referrals, the attorney told investigators, according to the ruling.

A hearing officer found that the court's Disciplinary Commission “had proven the existence of an agency relationship.”  

Wray also denied “being dishonest or deceitful with either his clients or with the Commission,” the ruling said. 

Lawyers for Wray, who says on his website he has 36 years of experience in several areas of law, did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday. 

Wray can ask the court for reinstatement after nine months but must prove “by clear and convincing evidence his remorse, rehabilitation and fitness to practice,” justices ruled.