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Brown County ex-prosecutor surrenders law license amid misconduct allegations

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Posted at 3:10 PM, Jan 02, 2019

Photo courtesy of the Brown County Democrat

BROWN COUNTY — A former Brown County prosecutor has surrendered his law license for the next five years amid allegations of professional misconduct.

The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed an 18-page formal disciplinary complaint against Andrew A. Szakaly, Jr. on June 7 alleging Szakaly “engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud deceit or misrepresentation.”

Szakaly commingled his personal or business funds with the funds of his clients, and used his clients’ funds without their knowledge or consent, read the complaint.

The disciplinary commission said Szakaly “committed the criminal act of conversion” when he disbursed funds from his trust account before funds for those clients were available.

Szakaly made national headlines in 2017 when the Indiana Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Abbey Management for charging customers who posted negative reviews about the Abbey Inn in Nashville.

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Andrew Szakaly served as the owner and attorney for Abbey Management.

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The disciplinary commission complaint does not mention the Abbey Inn or Abbey Management.

Records show he’s had a law license in Indiana since 1975.

Szakaly served as the Brown County chief deputy prosecutor from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017.

He’s also worked as the Nashville government town attorney, and was elected Brown County prosecutor from 1987 to 1990, according to the prosecutor’s office.

At least some of the alleged misconduct involved real estate transactions, records show.

From 2012 through 2016, Szakaly left large sums of client funds in his trust account for years without disbursing them to his clients, read the disciplinary commission complaint.

  • The disciplinary commission complaint also accused Szakaly of providing Florida residents with legal documents and advice when he is not licensed in the State of Florida, which is a violation of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.

Call 6 Investigates reached out to Szakaly for a response.

"While this attorney disciplinary matter was the first of my 43 year legal career, I felt it was best for all parties to bring it to a rapid conclusion,” said Szakaly in an email to Call 6 Investigates. “I am pleased that no client lost anything as a result of my actions. I am thankful for the opportunities given to me during my career and hope to be useful in the future."

It is unclear if Szakaly could face criminal charges.

Call 6 Investigates contacted current Brown County prosecutor Ted Adams.

“I am not aware of any criminal investigation, and I can confirm that there has not been a criminal referral either for an investigation or for potential criminal charges from any sort of law enforcement agency or the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission to the Brown County Prosecutor's Office,” said Adams in an email to RTV6. “If such a referral or request were to be made, I would certainly request a special prosecuting attorney to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

In an order issued December 6, the Indiana Supreme Court said Szakaly can’t seek reinstatement for five years.

“Approval of a petition for reinstatement is discretionary and requires clear and convincing evidence of the petitioner’s remorse, rehabilitation, and fitness to practice law,” read the order signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush.

Records show Szakaly withdrew as attorney for Abbey Management on December 27.

It’s unclear what impact Szakaly’s resignation will have on the 2017 lawsuit filed by the Indiana Attorney General, which is still pending in Jennings County court.

“As Abbey Management Inc. is no longer in business, I don't know who, if anyone, will represent it,” said Szakaly in an email to RTV6.

As Call 6 Investigates reported in 2017, a customer said she was charged $350 and threatened with legal action after leaving a negative review about her experience.

The case captured the attention of the Indiana Attorney General’s office who filed a lawsuit December 15 alleging the hotel violated Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.

Szakaly’s daughter, Amanda Sweet, took over the inn’s operations in January 2017.

The Abbey Inn closed its doors and removed its signage and following renovations, it reopened as The Yellowwood.

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Szakaly told Call 6 Investigates he put the complaint policy in place for a reason.

“Several years ago the Inn began to experience what has become known in the hospitality industry as ‘social media blackmail,” read the statement. “A guest would complete their stay, leave without making any complaints regarding their stay, then later demand a refund or they would post negative comments regarding the Inn on social media. In an attempt to meet the guest's needs while protecting itself from false reviews, the Inn, between Fall 2015 and Summer 2016, required prospective guests to confirm they had read the Inn's ‘complaint policy’ (published on the Inn's website & repeated on the online booking site) when they booked online and when they arrived for their stay.”

Szakaly said the policy, which ended in the summer of 2016, requested guests notify the Inn staff of any problems during the guest’s stay and allow the staff to address the problem.

“If the guest could not find a staff person, the guest was also given a phone number to call to report any problems,” said Szakaly in a statement to RTV6. “Should the guest fail to do so during their stay, and later published a false statement regarding the Inn and failed to remove the false statement after a request to do so, that guest authorized Abbey Management Inc. to charge that guest no more than $350 as ‘liquidated damages’ for their published false statement.”

The Indiana Attorney General is asking anyone who believes they may have been penalized for posting truthful reviews online to contact his office by going online to indianaconsumer.com or by calling 1-800-382-5516.

The Indiana Attorney General’s office said consumers should not be afraid to speak the truth about businesses, and provided the following tips:

  • Consumers should not be afraid to leave a negative review of a business if warranted. Consumers should leave truthful reviews regarding the goods and services that they received.
  • It is unlawful for a business to attempt to penalize you for leaving a review -- unless the review contains certain prohibited information, such as confidential information, libelous statements, etc.
  • Based on the protections of Indiana and federal law, consumers should feel comfortable leaving truthful reviews about their experiences. If consumers encounter any attempts to penalize them for reviews -- or encounter contracts seeking to prohibit them from leaving reviews -- they should report the incidents via consumer complaints to the Office of Attorney General online at indianaconsumer.com or by calling 1-800-382-5516.

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