Local public defender’s law license suspended 60 days

A public defender serving in Bartholomew Superior Court 1 has been disciplined by the Indiana Supreme Court for failing to follow through on three sentencing appeals for criminal defendants.

In a decision signed by Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, Columbus attorney James A. Shoaf has been ordered to serve a 60-day suspension from practicing law beginning Oct. 6.

The published order on the disciplinary action said Shoaf will be automatically reinstated after the suspension as long as there are no other suspensions in effect at the conclusion of the 60 days.

The order states Shoaf was hired as a contracted public defender in Bartholomew Superior Court 2, representing indigent defendants seeking to appeal their criminal convictions.

Shoaf is one of three public defenders working in Superior Court 2. Records show the case load he was assigned was as large as 384 defendants in 2011, Superior Court Judge Kitty Coriden said. The judge said that the number of cases involving those defendants may be much higher, perhaps as high as 500, as some individuals had multiple cases assigned to Shoaf.

Coriden described Shoaf as being exceptionally responsible in making sure that there will be no break in how his cases are covered while he is on suspension.

The judge said Shoaf has done an exceptionally good job as public defender and his job as a public defender is waiting for him the minute his suspension is over.

Shoaf was to receive a flat fee payment of $2,000 for appeals from sentencing orders, according to the Supreme Court order.

By custom, Shoaf would seek one-half of the fee upfront, and receive the remainder when the appeal was complete, the order stated.

In three sentencing appeals accepted by Shoaf, or where he served as appeal counsel, Shoaf filed notices of appeal and case summaries but after that failed to advance the defendant’s appeals, the court order states. As a result, the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed each of them.

In at least two of these appeals, Shoaf invoiced and received from Bartholomew county partial payments of $1,000 for the work, the order states.

In two of the appeals, Shoaf did not notify the appeal had been dismissed, and in the third appeal, when the defendant asked, Shoaf told the defendant the appeal had been dismissed due to a technicality, the order stated.

Although the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeals, the defendants still have an option to file for post-conviction relief, according to the complaint that was filed against Shoaf that was considered by the Supreme Court.

Shoaf was accused of violating rules of Indiana Professional Conduct including:

Failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness

Failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a legal matter.

Failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions.

As part of the agreement and discipline order, Shoaf assumes costs of the disciplinary proceeding, the court order states.

Shoaf did not respond to a request for an interview from The Republic.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.