The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Cops, courts and fires

December 28, 2010

Anderson lawyer suspended

Cotton disciplined for misconduct in 2007 divorce case

ANDERSON, Ind. — The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended an Anderson attorney for 30 days, finding that she violated professional rules of conduct while representing a woman in a divorce case.

Jane G. Cotton has been prohibited from taking new cases until her suspension is served. The court ordered Cotton suspended for one month beginning Feb. 7, 2011, after which she will be reinstated.

The court concluded Cotton had an improper one-side-only communication with a judge and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

According to the disciplinary action, Cotton began representing a wife in a divorce action on Dec. 14, 2007, and on that day she went to the courthouse to get an order barring her client’s husband from removing personal property from an address on South Central Way in Anderson.

The disciplinary action says Madison County Magistrate Stephen D. Clase had crossed the address off a protective order and initialed it, and that Cotton went to the courthouse to talk with him about it. The order says the only judge that Cotton could find was Madison Superior Court 5 Judge Thomas L. Clem.

Cotton told Clem “the address for this property had been inadvertently left out of the order for protection and asked him to add that address to the order,” according to the disciplinary action. Clem wrote the address on the order, but he did not sign or initial it or take any steps to have the order entered into court records, the disciplinary action says. It says Cotton “took the court’s seal and impressed it on the photocopied order over the ... address written by Judge Clem to ‘authenticate’ it,” the disciplinary action says.   

The disciplinary action says that Cotton said “use of the court’s seal by attorneys to ‘authenticate’ court orders is a common practice in the county,” a claim that Clem said did not apply to his court.

Cotton did not respond to a telephone message left at her law office seeking comment for this story.

As Cotton was seeking an order preventing her client’s husband from removing property from the address, the husband had days earlier requested the court’s permission to do so, which was later granted.

On Dec. 29, 2007, the husband went to the address and began to load his property on a truck when his wife showed up with a copy of the order that Clem had signed and Cotton had stamped with the court’s seal, the disciplinary action says. The wife called police, who declined to arrest the husband but required him to leave the property.

The action against Cotton says she also failed to notify the husband’s attorney, Scott Norrick, of the order. Norrick did not return a telephone message left at his law office seeking comment.

Clem said he did nothing improper and no complaint has been filed against him related to the case.

“It was described to me as, ‘this was just inadvertent,” Clem said Tuesday. He said Cotton presented the matter to him as a scrivener’s error: “The only thing I was asked to do was fill in a blank.”

In addition to Cotton’s suspension, she also was ordered to pay the husband’s attorney fees of $1,275 and the costs of the disciplinary action against her.

Four justices concurred with the opinion on Cotton’s discipline, but Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. wrote a dissent that said Cotton’s punishment was insufficient. Sullivan wrote that he believes Cotton should have been suspended for 90 days.

Contact Dave Stafford: 648-4250, dave.stafford@heraldbulletin.com

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