Legal Ethics

Sending female intern's horror-film clip to local law firms gets ex-partner suspended for 3 years

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Updated: A former partner of a well-known Indiana law firm has been suspended from practice for three years for persuading his paralegal to impersonate that firm’s managing partner and send an email attaching a horror-film clip in which a new hire seemingly was onscreen in a state of undress.

Arthur J. Usher IV, a former partner of Bose McKinney & Evans, had moved on to another law firm at the time of the incident. But he was apparently still carrying a torch for “Jane Doe,” a law student who worked as an intern at Bose McKinney while he was there, and who subsequently accepted a job offer from that firm. To get back at Jane Doe after she repeatedly rebuffed his advances, Usher obtained from the producer a clip of a horror film in which Jane Doe had acted and then circulated it, the Indiana Supreme Court explains in a Friday opinion (PDF). He did so with his paralegal’s help, along with a fictitious thread of seeming third-party comments, in an effort to discredit the young woman and damage her job prospects.

The paralegal—who said she thought the email was simply a prank—sent it to multiple recipients at Bose McKinney as well as other well-known Indiana law firms. A body double was used for a portion of the horror clip that involved nudity, but although Usher “was aware of this fact [he] did not disclose this in the email, leaving the impression that Jane Doe appeared topless in the movie,” the opinion says.

A hearing officer rejected Usher’s explanation that the email was a prank or humorous, and the supreme court agreed.

“His misconduct involving the email was motivated by personal revenge and his intent was to harm Jane Doe personally and professionally,” the court writes, finding that Usher engaged in “pervasive dishonesty” in the email and in the civil lawsuit discovery and legal ethics case investigation that resulted.

“Respondent has shown no substantial remorse or insight into his misconduct,” the court said, finding that a three-year suspension was necessary. “It is this lack of insight that leads us to believe that a substantial sanction is necessary to ensure that the seriousness of his misconduct is impressed upon him and that similar misconduct is not repeated in the future.”

Usher was asked to resign from a subsequent job at Krieg DeVault after he sent the email and Jane Doe got a protective order, the supreme court opinion notes.

A lengthy Indianapolis Star article published on May 24 provides additional details.

Before arranging for the bogus email to be sent to 50 lawyers at Bose lawyers and six other Indianapolis law firms, Usher wrote a series of increasingly lengthy love letters to the young lawyer, she says in a civil suit she filed against him that was dismissed in February. One, in April 2008, was 14 pages long. Then, in May 2008, the tone changed, she alleges, as Usher emailed another letter, expressing his frustration and attaching copies of all of his prior letters to her, as well as a 41-page journal in which he described his affection for her.

The suit claimed that at least one Bose lawyer thought the plaintiff should be fired due to the bogus email and others still incorrectly think she herself appeared topless in the clip and acted in pornographic movies.

After Usher’s email, the young woman put her acting career on pause and left Bose, telling the Star that the the situation with Usher was “a big factor” in her departure from the firm.

“I’m just glad,” she said, “that the interest of justice was served.”

Usher declined to comment when contacted by the Star. A spokesman for the law firm says it is committed to providing a safe work environment, had confidence that the Indiana Supreme Court would appropriately resolve the matter and is “pleased the issue has concluded.”

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

Updated on May 24 to include subsequent Indianapolis Star coverage.

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