Discipline: Non-lawyer permanently banned from offering legal services

An Indianapolis non-lawyer who drafted a petition for post-conviction relief and sentence modification for an inmate has been permanently banned from offering or providing legal advice and services.

On March 4, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a “Verified Petition to Prohibit the Unauthorized Practice of Law” against Eric Smith under Indiana Rule 24 of Admissions and Discipline.

The judges of the Thursday order of State of Indiana ex rel. Theodore E. Rokita vs. Eric Smith22S-MS-83, granted the motion and permanently barred Smith from offering or providing legal advice or legal services to others unless or until he obtained a license to practice law in Indiana.

The petition alleges that Smith, who is not a licensed attorney, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in the State of Hoosier by offering and providing legal assistance without the supervision of an attorney to residents of Indiana through “Self Help Legal Aid Company, LLC”, a company he owns and operates.

Among other things, Smith was reportedly hired to assist “Fisher”, an incarcerated individual, and drafted a post-conviction petition for reparations and a motion to modify sentence for the inmate.

According to the order, the PCR motion Smith drafted included a legal argument and the motion for sentence modification said Smith had attempted to contact the prosecutor about a modification.

Smith reportedly indicated in a separate email that he would appear as Fisher’s “legal assistant” at any hearing on the motion to change sentence. However, Fisher did not file either the PCR motion or the motion to amend drafted by Smith.

The judges were prompted to accept the verified allegations as true because Smith’s verified March 14 return did not “specifically deny or admit each allegation of fact” in the motion.

“Smith argues more broadly that his conduct is permitted under our rules governing the use of paralegals. But Guideline 9.1 requires a non-lawyer assistant to provide services “only under the direct supervision of a lawyer.”[.]wrote Chief Justice Loretta Rush in Thursday’s order.

“Smith does not claim to have acted under the supervision of an attorney; rather, he appears to be arguing that his actions were authorized because pro litigants act[ ] as their own lawyer. Self-representation allows an individual to speak in their own legal name, but it does not make that individual an attorney, and certainly not one authorized to directly supervise Smith’s conduct.

“Smith also argues that his conduct occurred in 2019, outside of any statute of limitations,” the order continued. “But Rule 24 contains no limitation period; and in any event, Smith’s Return accepts the petition’s assertion that “as of the date of filing, Smith continues to provide legal services to individuals in exchange for payment”. Smith also summarily asserts that pro litigants have a constitutional right to be assisted by a paralegal, but he offers no convincing argument in support.

The restriction does not prevent Smith from being employed or independently contracting with an attorney or law firm as a non-attorney assistant. The only caveat is that in doing so he is complying with the terms of this permanent injunction and is not violating Indiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct or Guideline 9 for the Use of Non-Lawyer Assistants.

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