Friday, May 15, 2020

Billing Issues Draw One Year Suspension

The Iowa Supreme Court rejected a proposed 60-day suspension and ordered a suspension of one-year.

The attorney was reimbursed for services by the State Public Defender, which conducted an inquiry into her bills

The SPD review also revealed discrepancies with Meyer’s claims for mileage reimbursement. Specifically, Meyer at times billed multiple clients for the full mileage to the same location on the same day. Langholz determined at least 2853 miles of reimbursement were improperly claimed. Meyer paid the SPD $998.60 in an effort to resolve the contention that she overbilled mileage.

It became apparent that improprieties with the SPD billing fees and mileage expenses were not limited to Meyer. As a result, the state auditor conducted a special investigation of the SPD. Meyer and thirteen other attorneys were audited, leading to disciplinary charges.

As to Respondent

The audit included an examination of Meyer’s fees and expenses from August 2009 through August 2013. The auditor found thirty days on which Meyer billed SPD twenty-four hours or more. And on 317 days, Meyer billed SPD 12.1 hours or more for combined billings totaling $101,220. For the same period, the auditor identified 147 trips in which Meyer duplicated her mileage reimbursement, totaling $2768.55 for 7910 miles traveled. 

She entered an Alford plea to  criminal charges.

The state auditor discovered Meyer billed more than twenty-four hours in a day on thirty different days. On thirty-eight different days, the state auditor found Meyer billed between twenty and 23.9 hours per day. In one month, July 2009, Meyer billed the SPD for 353.8 hours. That would require Meyer to bill an average of eleven hours daily for thirty-one straight days, an accomplishment Langholz aptly described as “highly improbabl[e] for an individual to bill in a single month.” We agree.

The other SPD overbilling cases provided a basis for comparisons

The commission recommended a sixty-day suspension for Meyer. In our view, the commission underestimated the dollar amount Meyer overcharged the SPD. Her court-ordered restitution, $102,989.95, is larger than Noel’s $14,697.45, and she pled guilty to a more serious theft offense. But mitigating factors cut against imposing a longer suspension on Meyer than Noel. The SPD never questioned the quality of Meyer’s representation of her clients or claimed any of her clients were harmed. To the contrary, a retired district court judge stated in an affidavit that Meyer was “always extremely well-prepared, on time[,] and a superior professional, caring advocate for the children she represented.” He noted foster care support groups had urged him to continue appointing Meyer  as guardian ad litem for children because of her diligence, responsiveness, and “that she always went above and beyond what other guardians ad litem did to help the children she served.” A district associate judge also submitted an affidavit stating that Meyer was her “first choice when appointing counsel” in juvenile court matters and described her as a “superb advocate.” We consider their testimony in mitigation.

...On balance, we determine that a one-year suspension is appropriate in this case. 

(Mike Frisch)

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