Friday, January 17, 2020
The Iowa Supreme Court rejected a proposed reprimand and suspended an attorney
The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a complaint against attorney T.J. Hier charging her with violating Iowa disciplinary rules in connection with her handling of a disputed attorney fee payment in what she aptly describes as a “hotly contested, emotional family law matter.” A division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found that Hier violated several rules but that the Board failed to prove several other rule violations. The commission recommends a public reprimand. The Board seeks a suspension. Hier requests a private admonition. We agree with the commission’s findings as to Hier’s rule violations, but we disagree with the commission’s recommended sanction. In light of Hier’s prior disciplinary history, we suspend her license to practice law for thirty days.
Background of the attorney
Hier obtained her Iowa law license in 1997. She began her career in private practice in Newton, and she served as an assistant county attorney in Jasper County. She had an inactive law license from 2001 to 2005. She resumed practicing law solo out of her home in Baxter in 2006. She now practices in the areas of criminal, juvenile, and family law. Hier is under contract with the state public defender’s office for criminal and juvenile court appointments. She represents many clients pro bono and serves other low-income clients. She volunteers as a mock trial coach and for domestic violence victim groups, her church, and the Special Olympics. Hier is legally blind, having lived nearly her entire life with Stargardt disease, a rare macular degeneration that requires her to use magnification techniques and devices to read documents.
The attorney had been subject to discipline on five prior occasions.
Here she deposited an unearned $750 fee in her operating account
We reject Hier’s claim that the $750 was hers to keep upon receipt as a fee payment in settlement of the contempt action.
We must decide the appropriate sanction for Hier’s failure to place the disputed funds in her CTA pending resolution of Van Dorn’s claim. The commission recommended a public reprimand. The Board argues for a suspension. Hier requests a private admonition. If this were Hier’s first disciplinary transgression, no suspension would be warranted. But Hier already has had four prior public reprimands and a suspension...
Hier’s most recent public reprimand in December 2017 was for violating some of the same trust account rules she violated here, and yet for the next six months, Hier persisted in refusing to place the disputed funds in her CTA. We consider the December 2017 public reprimand to be prior discipline because Van Dorn’s counsel renewed his demands for return of the disputed funds in January and March 2018. Hier paid back half of the disputed amount but neglected to place the balance in her CTA.
After considering all of the relevant mitigating and aggravating factors here, we return to the most significant aggravating factor, Hier’s disciplinary history, and we determine that a thirty-day suspension is appropriate.