Judge’s order calls out lawyer who accused magistrate judge of bias

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Dave Stafford for www.theindianalawyer.com

An Indianapolis lawyer representing a disabled former student in a lawsuit against Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology was referred for a refresher course on legal ethics by a federal judge.

District Judge William T. Lawrence wrote in a seven-page order Friday that plaintiff’s attorney John Thrasher “misunderstood or purposefully mischaracterizes” the relief he sought in a motion to reconsider a ruling on a discovery issue, a motion the court denied. Lawrence also warned Thrasher he was close to the line of sanctionable conduct in his criticism of Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore’s handling of the case.

Thrasher represents Justin Castelino, who attended Rose-Hulman for three years before he was suspended and later denied readmission. Castelino’s amended complaint says he has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and auditory processing disorder — diagnoses recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act that require reasonable accommodations. Along with his ADA complaint, Castelino also raises claims over alleged maltreatment by Rose-Hulman faculty members, and he seeks damages for breach of contract, defamation, false advertising, invasion of privacy, harassment and malice.

Rose-Hulman in response says Castelino was disciplined for cause and claims he “is a direct threat to the Rose-Hulman campus community and poses a threat to the safety of the members of the campus community.” The Terre Haute school alleges Castelino made numerous false allegations about his treatment while a student, including some that he recanted in a deposition.

Rose-Hulman has countersued, alleging defamation and abuse of process in seeking damages and fees from Castelino.

It argues in part Castelino and/or his attorney made false statements to news media that Rose-Hulman’s actions toward Castelino were “outrageously unreasonable and abusive.” Holly Reedy of the Terre Haute firm Wilkinson Goeller Modesitt Wilkinson & Drummy LLP represents Rose-Hulman in this case.

Lawrence’s order detailed Thrasher’s suggestions that Dinsmore had administered the case with “impermissible partiality,” and that it was “suspicious” that defense counsel had been able to “predict” the magistrate’s rulings. Lawrence wrote Dinsmore’s rulings in question weren’t suspicious or predictions — but rather, defense counsel simply recalled what Dinsmore had previously said on the record as he ruled on case-management issues.

“By making this baseless accusation of misconduct against Magistrate Judge Dinsmore and defense counsel, Mr. Thrasher has come perilously close to crossing the line from vigorous (if misguided) advocacy to sanctionable conduct. See, e.g., Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2 (prohibiting statements regarding the integrity of a judge that are false or made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity); Seventh Circuit Standards of Professional Conduct ¶ 4 (An attorney will not ‘absent good cause, attribute bad motives or improper conduct to other counsel or bring the profession into disrepute by unfounded accusations of impropriety.’),” Lawrence wrote.

“Mr. Thrasher is directed to review the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct and the Seventh Circuit Standards of Professional Conduct, both of which govern the conduct of attorneys appearing before this Court … and insure that he fully complies with those rules and standards in all future filings, communications, and actions during the course of this case.”

The case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division, is Justin Castelino v. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 2:17-CV-139.

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