An attorney who lured a murder suspect from capable representation by a public defender and botched his case will have his license suspended for three years, without automatic reinstatement, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Sept. 10.

The client’s change in counsel got him “shoddier legal representation, weakened bargaining power, the inability to meaningfully participate in his own defense, and ultimately a higher-level conviction and several more years in prison than he otherwise would have received,” the court said.

The charges stem from Brent Welke’s solicitation and representation of a client who maintained he fatally stabbed a man in self-defense. An experienced public defender initially represented the client.

The public defender thought a self-defense argument would fail, according to the court. He was in the process of negotiating a 30-year plea deal when Welke’s nonlawyer assistant, Joseph Everroad, allegedly persuaded the murder suspect’s family to drop the public defender in favor of Welke, according to the court

Welke could get him a better plea deal or successfully argue self-defense, said Everroad, who himself had served time for murder, according to the court . The family paid a $6,000 retainer, including $1,000 for an interpreter, since the client spoke little English.

But Welke hadn’t handled murder cases, didn’t hire an interpreter, and couldn’t communicate effectively with the client, according to the court. He allegedly delegated work on the case to Everroad.

Just before trial, Welke realized that he couldn’t succeed on a self-defense theory. He attempted to accept a 40-year plea agreement without consulting his client, and advised him to accept a 45-year deal during trial, which he did.

Welke has been disciplined three times previously, the court said.

The “cases collectively paint the picture of an attorney whose primary motivation appears to be the collection of legal fees rather than the provision of a valuable service for his clients,” the court said in a per curiam opinion.

This case, described by the judge overseeing Welke’s hearing as a bait and switch, “is by far the most egregious of Respondent’s four disciplinary cases,” the court said.

Welke challenged some of the hearing officer’s conclusions, including that his representation was detrimental to the client. But he admitted the charges, except for dishonesty to the investigating commission, the court said.

Justice Steven H. David dissented regarding the sanction.

The case is In re Welke, 2019 BL 338004, Ind., Supreme Court Case No. 49S00-1707-DI-472, 9/10/19.