Friday, August 31, 2007

Too Harsh A Sanction?

As readers know, I rarely find attorney discipline too harsh. A case decided today by the Iowa Supreme Court does strike me as unduly punitive under the facts and circumstances described by the court. The attorney was admitted in 1952. He had a single prior finding of misconduct for an improper business transaction with a client in 1994.

The attorney took on an estate matter. At the time, he "was in the process of limiting his clientele in contemplation of his retirement. His long-time secretary, or legal assistant, also left her employ during this time, and [the attorney] employed a new secretary." His petition for payment included a claim for duplicate services. The misconduct "likely was due to miscommunication between [the attorney] and his secretary during a time when [the attorney] was working at home after recuperation from heart surgery."

Noting that this "[w]as not the first Iowa attorney to collect an illegal or excessive fee in a probate proceeding," and that the range of sanctions for prior violations has included public censure, the court suspended the attorney for sixty days.

After 55 years of practice, it seems to me that lawyer in ill health in transition to retirement might fairly be spared the indignity of suspension. An order requiring repayment along with a public censure might have been appropriate. (Mike Frisch)

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