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Repeat-offender lawyer given stiff penalty

During his years as Indiana’s chief justice, Randall Shepard led the state Supreme Court in handing appropriate disciplinary penalties to lawyers who committed unethical or wrongful acts. Under new Chief Justice Brent Dickson, the court is rightly making clear that repeated inappropriate actions by attorneys will continue to be dealt with sternly.

The court this week sanctioned a Muncie attorney for repeatedly violating rules of conduct, giving him a three-year suspension. And Louis Denney will be readmitted to the bar only if he proves to the court he has reformed. The court admonished Denney for, among other things, “(c)harging unreasonable fees and failing to refund unearned fees, sharing fees with a non-lawyer, and failing to withdraw after termination of employment.”

In one case, Denney accepted a $10,000 fee to represent a client in a criminal case. The client fired him after about a year because the case was still hanging; the client hired another lawyer for $3,500. That lawyer successfully ended the case with a plea bargain to misdemeanors.

Denney “did minimal work, failed to inform the client of a plea offer, failed to turn over the client’s papers to the client, and refused to refund any of the fee,” the Supreme Court’s order states.

And, according to the disciplinary order, Denney did something most Hoosier lawyers know is impermissible: He did not cooperate with the Disciplinary Commission’s investigation.

Interestingly, two of the five justices agreed with Dickson’s order. But Justice Robert Rucker would have handed down a suspension of just one year. Justice Steven David, on the other hand, would have disbarred Denney.

Indiana OK with gun-purchase screening

Most Hoosiers are staunch Second Amendment backers, but a strong majority of Indiana residents also want background checks completed for every gun buyer.

A survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition of 850 U.S. mayors led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, found that 89 percent of Hoosiers support background checks for all gun buyers. The poll, which was done in late January and included participants from every state, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It shows Indiana residents heavily favor ending the gun-show loophole.

Almost 40 percent of gun sales are completed by unlicensed private sellers – often at gun shows – who are not required to complete a background check. Research shows that gun trafficking is 48 percent lower in states that require background checks for all gun sales.

Coal-fired plants will come offline under EPA deal

Environmentalists are labeling a recent settlement with American Electric Power a victory for clean air. The power company is labeling it a victory for its ratepayers as well.

As part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American Electric Power agreed either to shut down or switch to natural gas at several coal-fired power plants by 2015. The agreement will affect the Tanners Creek Generating Station in Indiana, the Muskingum River Power Plant in Ohio and the Big Sandy Power Plant in Kentucky.

Aging coal-fired power plants are a major contributor to air pollution. They are the largest source of mercury, sulfur dioxide and carbon pollution in the nation. Environmental advocates estimate the change will eliminate almost 12 million tons of carbon emissions and about 84,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution that the coal-fired power plants emitted each year.

Natural gas burns much cleaner than coal, and declining prices are making it financially competitive with coal.

Another component of the agreement allows I&M, a subsidiary of AEP, to use less-expensive pollution control technology at the Rockport Power Plant in southern Indiana. A previous agreement called for installing dry scrubbers, which cost $1.4 billion each. The company will instead use dry sorbent injection, which is one-fifth the cost of one scrubber. Rockport would have needed two scrubbers.

AEP also agreed to replace a portion of the power generated at the three coal-fired power plants with investments in wind energy.

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