In re: Eric F. Kayira
St. Louis County
The chief disciplinary counsel was represented during arguments by Shevon L. Harris of The Harris Law Firm in St. Louis; Kayira was represented by Michael P. Downey of Downey Law Group LLC in St. Louis.
In 2012, St. Louis County attorney Eric Kayira began representing a decedent’s estate. On behalf of the estate, he sued Bank of America, alleging the bank wrongfully disbursed the decedent’s funds before his death under a purported power of attorney. The estate was under the supervision of the probate division, but Kayira failed to get its authorization before filing or pursuing the lawsuit on the estate’s behalf. In 2013, all without the probate division’s authorization or knowledge, Kayira entered into a confidential settlement agreement with the bank for $12,500, deposited the settlement check – made out to Kayira’s law firm but not the estate —into his operating account, used the funds to pay personal representative expenses related to the bank case, and dismissed the case against the bank. He then petitioned the probate division to convert the estate from a supervised estate to one with independent administration without bond, stating in his petition he still was searching for assets through the lawsuit against the bank. The probate division, unaware Kayira had settled the case and deposited the settlement check, granted his petition. In 2015, Kayira moved to withdraw from representing the estate. At a hearing on his motion, the probate division advised him the settlement check was an asset of the estate and should have been deposited into the estate’s account, not Kayira’s operating account as an earned legal fee, and ordered him to pay $12,500 into the estate’s account. Kayira later canceled his motion to withdraw, and the probate division reported his conduct. The chief disciplinary counsel instituted disciplinary proceedings against Kayira. During the investigation, Kayira remitted two checks to the estate: a $12,500 check drawn on his trust account and a $3,375 check drawn on his operating account, representing interest accrued on the settlement check. He ultimately stated the source of the $12,500 was not the original bank settlement but rather his share of attorney fees from an unrelated case. An audit of Kayira’s accounts showed he had used the bank settlement proceeds in part to pay his landlord. The audit also showed he did not maintain certain trust account records, did not reconcile his trust account, deposited client funds into his operating account, and transferred money from his trust account to his operating account without proper documentation. In addition, the audit revealed issues with how Kayira had handled fees paid by a number of clients and settlement checks he received on their behalf. During a hearing, Kayira did not dispute the investigator’s testimony about his accounts and transactions and admitted he used some of the funds improperly. In mitigation, Kayira testified he was experiencing personal difficulties during the time in question, later sought treatment, had taken a trust accounting class, had incorporated new software in his law office, and was involved in the community. The disciplinary hearing panel found Kayira had violated a number of rules of professional conduct; it found several factors in aggravation of punishment but none sufficient to mitigate punishment. The panel recommended he be disbarred. The chief disciplinary counsel accepted the panel’s decision; Kayira rejects it, asking this Court to find his conduct and evidence of mitigation support imposition of an indefinite suspension.
This case presents two questions for this Court – whether Kayira violated rules of professional conduct and, if so, what discipline, if any, is appropriate.