- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Some child welfare officials say there could be dangerous fallout from an Indiana State Bar Association committee’s opinion that lawyers aren’t bound by a state law requiring anyone who suspects child abuse to immediately report it.

The bar association’s Legal Ethics Committee says lawyers may report suspected child abuse or neglect against their clients’ wishes only when they believe it necessary “to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm.”

The opinion says a lawyer’s duty to keep client information confidential is “generally paramount” over the responsibility to report child mistreatment, The Indianapolis Star reported (https://indy.st/1LggzNl ). The committee also cited the separation of powers in its opinion, arguing that the Indiana Supreme Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which require attorneys to keep information confidential under most circumstances, override the law.

Sandy Runkle-DeLorme, director of programs at Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, said she’s worried that many lawyers lack the training to determine the seriousness of a child abuse or neglect situation. She pointed out that people also can report child abuse and neglect anonymously.

“Because it’s an opinion and not a change in legislation, I hope that people do what they need to do, which is follow the law,” she said.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said he believed the opinion strikes a balance between two fundamental considerations.

“As a society and certainly as a prosecutor, we do not want to see child abuse go unreported and undetected,” Curry said. “The countervailing consideration is just the fundamental rule of attorney-client privilege.”

Curry said people need to be confident that something they share with their attorney is not going to be disclosed. He said attorneys need to know the entire circumstances of a situation in order to “effectively and zealously represent their client.”

The opinion puts the safety of children at risk, Indiana Department of Child Services spokesman James Wide said. Everyone - even therapists, doctors, teachers and ministers - is required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Those who fail to do can face misdemeanor charges.

“No one’s exempt,” Wide said. “We can’t agree with that (opinion).”

Attorney Arend Abel, a former chairman of the bar association’s committee, said the panel took up the issue because lawyers have asked for guidance.

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush said through a spokeswoman that she could not comment because the matter could come before the Supreme Court.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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