The Indiana Supreme Court late last week placed Howard County’s chief public defender on 18 months of professional probation for violations related to money mismanagement and lack of oversight over an employee who pleaded guilty to felony theft and forgery.
The court's justices published an order Friday suspending Steve Raquet from practicing law for 180 days but stayed, or held off, the suspension subject to Raquet successfully completing the year-and-a-half of probation.
The order, signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, came after the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against Raquet on April 24 that detailed continuous overdrafts from his Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) and a series of professional conduct violations.
The violations occurred in his capacity with Raquet, Vandenbosch & Steele. Raquet is a former partner whom officials have previously said is now “of counsel” to the Kokomo firm.
Court documents show Raquet, represented in the case by Indianapolis lawyer Margaret Christensen, and the Disciplinary Commission together submitted a "Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline" document to the Supreme Court.
The document, which outlines agreed facts and proposed discipline, is similar in context to a plea agreement and was approved by the court’s five justices.
A request for comment submitted to Christensen was not returned. Also not returning comment were two members, DJ Bolinger and Cartwright Ellis, of Howard County’s public defender board.
Detailed in the complaint and outlined in Friday’s order are a series of checks cashed in Raquet’s IOLTA at Salin Bank that first generated the attention of Disciplinary Commission officials. The checks were cashed in fall 2017 and resulted in continuous overdrafts.
The state describes IOLTA as “bank accounts into which an attorney or firm deposits client funds that either are so small in amount, or will be held for such a short amount of time, that they will not earn interest income sufficient to cover the costs incurred to secure such income.
“Interest earned on IOLTA accounts is paid to the Indiana Bar Foundation to support pro bono legal aid and other public services.”
In November 2017, the Disciplinary Commission sent notices of the overdrafts to Raquet and “demanded a documented explanation for the series of overdrafts” to the trust account.
It was later discovered a bookkeeper at the firm, Kimberly Jackson, who had replaced Raquet’s wife in the role after she retired at the end of 2016, had been placing deposits into incorrect accounts.
The complaint alleged “some of the cash receipts from clients were not deposited to any bank accounts at all,” referring to the actions as “bookkeeper errors and theft” that led to improper disbursements of money and deposits that never happened.
Raquet at one point hired a certified public accountant, or CPA, to review the situation, which the order notes “revealed both errors and theft committed by [Jackson].”
Jackson was charged by the Howard County Prosecutor’s office in January 2018 with one count of theft, a Level 5 felony, and seven counts of forgery, Level 6 felonies.
Court records show Jackson pleaded guilty in late April in Howard Circuit Court to felony theft and one count of felony forgery and was given three years of supervised probation. The remaining counts were dismissed.
Evidence submitted at a court hearing showed Jackson illegally took $58,851 belonging to Raquet, Vandenbosch & Steele. She was ordered to pay restitution.
The CPA audit also uncovered the fact Raquet had held earned funds of more than $5,000 in his trust account, along with client funds, that had not been disbursed from the account over numerous years.
Raquet’s internal policy, stated the complaint, was to deposit both client funds and his own earned funds into his trust account. The Indiana Judicial Branch, however, notes on its website that lawyers are required to maintain client and third-party funds separate from their own funds.
Five violations are listed in the Supreme Court’s order, including Raquet failing to hold client or third-party property separate from his own property.
The second violation cites Raquet “maintaining more than a nominal amount of attorney funds” in his trust account, while the third violation admonishes Raquet for failing to oversee Jackson in a way that was compatible with his own professional obligations.
The final two violations include Raquet failing to properly deposit trust funds or to “deposit all receipts into a trust account intact.”
The same five violations were outlined in the Disciplinary Commission's complaint.
As part of Raquet’s probation, his trust account will be monitored by a CPA who will make quarterly reports to the Disciplinary Commission. He is also required to cooperate with any commission investigation and pay for the CPA.
Any legal, professional or probation violation will likely result in Raquet being forced to serve a 180-day suspension “without automatic reinstatement,” according to court documents.
Listed as an aggravating factor in the Supreme Court’s order is his prior discipline, which came in 2007 when he received a 30-day law-practice suspension for a case that involved Raquet viewing child pornography on the Internet, printing photographs and paying an unknown online provider six years earlier.
He later entered counseling before being charged with misdemeanor possession of child pornography and completing a pretrial diversion program. He was then slapped with the month-long suspension following a Disciplinary Commission complaint.
Also referenced in Friday’s order, however, are various mitigating factors within his most recent case. They include Raquet’s cooperation, remorse, restitution and “undertaking of other remedial measures following discovery of the trust account mismanagement.”