Friday, December 8, 2023

Seed Money

The Iowa Supreme Court has imposed a two-year suspension of an attorney for misconduct in multiple counts

Viewing the record as a whole and considering the admitted allegations in the complaint, we conclude that Mitchell and [Respondent] Leitner used Foodprairie in an attempt to deceive Mitchell’s creditors. Although Mitchell was dealing seed for Pfister and receiving money for that work, Mitchell and Leitner tried to create a false impression that only Leitner—and not Mitchell—was involved with Pfister. This conduct violated rule 32:8.4(c).

In a marriage dissolution

Applying these principles here, we conclude that Leitner violated rule 32:3.3(a)(1) on two occasions during the Fries and Barney dissolution case. First, Leitner violated 32:3.3(a)(1) through a written filing in which Leitner falsely  represented that he had tried to set up mediation. Leitner would have known that this representation was false because it involved Leitner’s own behavior, namely, his own failure to try to set up mediation. So we infer that this misrepresentation was made knowingly and, therefore, in violation of rule 32:3.3(a)(1).

Second, and likewise, Leitner violated rule 32:3.3(a)(1) by falsely representing to the court that Leitner had notified his client of a hearing. Again, this misrepresentation was about a matter within Leitner’s personal knowledge. This conduct violated rule 32:3.3(a)(1)...

Count II also describes additional dishonest conduct by Leitner, namely, Leitner’s fraudulent insertion of the right-of-first-refusal provision in a dissolution decree. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Kallsen, 814 N.W.2d 233, 238 (Iowa 2012) (finding “dishonesty” which separately “goes beyond [a] specific rule violation” 13 can still violate rule 32:8.4(c)). We have no doubt that this behavior was designed to mislead—and did mislead—both Fries and Fries’s counsel. This conduct violated rule 32:8.4(c).

The third matter involved an alleged conflict of interest

We believe all three conditions are met through Leitner’s involvement with Jamison and Lu-Jen. First, the consecutive-representation condition is met because Leitner represented Jamison and then represented Lu-Jen. Second, these consecutive representations both involved “the same or a substantially related matter” because (1) Leitner’s representation of Jamison involved drafting a contract between Jamison and Lu-Jen, and (2) Leitner’s representation of LuJen involved litigation against Jamison over the very contract that Leitner had drafted for Jamison. Iowa R. of Prof’l Conduct 32:1.9(a). Third, and finally, LuJen’s interests were “materially adverse” to Jamison’s interests because Jamison was suing Lu-Jen. Id. And so Leitner’s representation of Lu-Jen violated rule 32:1.9(a).

Count four

We conclude that Leitner violated rule 32:8.4(d) in at least two ways. First, Leitner’s repeated contact with a represented party led to a motion to prohibit further contact and, ultimately, an order granting that motion. Then Leitner violated that order by contacting the represented party and filing a petition on her behalf. This required additional court action to dismiss the petition and sanction Leitner for his violation of the prior order. This conduct violated rule 32:8.4(d).

Count five

We conclude Leitner violated rule 32:8.4(c), which prohibits “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” by knowingly providing a false answer on his 2020 CSQ. Iowa R. of Prof’l Conduct 32:8.4(c). Leitner also violated all of these trust fund rules: rule 32.1.15(a) (requiring attorneys to keep others’ property separate from their own property), rule 32:1.15(c) (requiring attorneys to deposit advance fees into a CTA), rule 45.1 (mandating “identifiable interest-bearing trust accounts” for third-party funds), rule 45.2(3)(a)(9) (establishing requirements for proper record keeping for CTAs), rule 45.7(3) (forbidding attorneys from withdrawing advance payments from a CTA before they are earned), and rule 45.7(4) (requiring attorneys to notify clients about withdrawals and balances). Iowa Rs. of Prof’l Conduct 32:1.15(a), 32:1.15(c); Iowa Ct. Rs. 45.1, 45.2(3)(a)(9), 45.7(3), 45.7(4).

The court declined to impose revocation

We hereby suspend Leitner’s license to practice law in Iowa indefinitely, with no possibility of reinstatement for two years. This suspension will commence ten days from the date of this opinion. Iowa Ct. R. 34.23(1). This suspension applies to all facets of the practice of law. Id. r. 34.23(3). We further direct Leitner to comply with the requirements set forth in Iowa Court Rule 34.24 and assess the costs of the instant disciplinary action to him, Iowa Ct. R. 36.24(1).

(Mike Frisch)

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