On review of the report of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wiggins, Justice.
Grievance commission reports respondent committed ethical infractions and recommends his license be revoked. LICENSE REVOKED.
The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a complaint against the respondent, Brian L. Stowe, alleging violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and Iowa Court Rules. A division of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa found Stowe's conduct violated numerous provisions of the rules and recommended we revoke his license to practice law. We are required to review the commission's report. See Iowa Ct. R. 35.11. On our de novo review, we find the Board established by a convincing preponderance of the evidence that Stowe committed violations of our rules when he converted a client's funds. Accordingly, we adopt the commission's recommendation and revoke Stowe's license.
We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. McCarthy, 814 N.W.2d 596, 601 (Iowa 2012). These proceedings are special, civil in nature, not criminal, and are akin to an investigation by the court into the conduct of its officers. Comm. on Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Wright, 178 N.W.2d 749, 750 (Iowa 1970).
The Board must prove the disciplinary violations by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. McCarthy, 814 N.W.2d at 601. "A convincing preponderance of the evidence is more than a preponderance of the evidence, but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. Accordingly, the burden on the Board is higher than the burden in civil cases, but less than in criminal cases. Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Evans, 537 N.W.2d 783, 784 (Iowa 1995).
We deem factual matters admitted by an attorney in an answer as established, regardless of the evidence in the record. See Iowa Supreme Ct. Comm'n on Unauthorized Practice of Law v. Sturgeon, 635 N.W.2d 679, 686 n.1 (Iowa 2001) (rejecting the attorney's argument that the record did not support license revocation because the attorney admitted the misconduct in his answer); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Torgerson, 585 N.W.2d 213, 213--14 (Iowa 1998) (finding rule violations when the attorney admitted collection of a clearly excessive fee). But see Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Gailey, 790 N.W.2d 801, 804 (Iowa 2010) ("[W]e will not be bound by a stipulation of a violation or of a sanction in reaching our final decision in a disciplinary case.").
We give respectful consideration to the commission's recommendations, but they are not binding upon us. McCarthy, 814 N.W.2d at 601. We may impose a greater or lesser sanction than the commission recommends upon proof of misconduct. Id.; see also Iowa Ct. R. 35.11. Our determination of the appropriate sanction "is guided by the nature of the alleged violations, the need for deterrence, protection of the public, maintenance of the reputation of the bar as a whole, and [the attorney's] fitness to continue in the practice of law." Comm. on Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Kaufman, 515 N.W.2d 28, 30 (Iowa 1994). The primary purpose of lawyer disciplinary proceedings is to protect the public, not punish the lawyer. Comm. on Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Tullar, 466 N.W.2d 912, 913 (Iowa 1991).
II. Prior Disciplinary Proceedings and the Board's Present Complaint.
This is not the first time the court has evaluated Stowe's fitness to practice law. On April 25, 2011, we granted the Board's request for a disability suspension of Stowe's license and the appointment of a trustee, due to his mental impairment and drug addiction. We temporarily suspended his license once again on February 15, 2012, because Stowe failed to timely respond to an inquiry by the Board.
The current disciplinary action commenced on April 17, 2012, when the Board brought a complaint against Stowe, alleging five counts of misconduct. The Board alleged Stowe's plea to possession of methamphetamine constituted misconduct reflecting adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer, in violation of Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b). Next, in counts two and three the Board alleged Stowe breached our rules by mishandling client trust funds, after he endorsed and cashed checks on two different clients' trust accounts without authority to do so. The Board specifically cited violations of Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:1.3, 32:1.4, 32:1.15, and 32:8.4(b), (c), and (d), in addition to Iowa Court Rules 45.1, 45.2(1)--
(2), and 45.7. In the fourth count, the Board alleged that Stowe tendered bad checks, violating Iowa Code sections 714.1(6) and 714.2(5), as well as Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b) and (c). Finally, the Board alleged that Stowe participated in the unauthorized practice of law after we suspended his license, violating Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:5.5(a) and 32:8.4(c) and (d).
The Board later added three additional counts to the complaint. Count six alleged that Stowe violated our rules by being convicted of felony forgery for writing two checks on a client's private account without permission, offending Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b) and
(c). Count seven accused Stowe of committing another act of unauthorized practice, in violation of Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:5.5(a) and 32:8.4(c) and (d). The Board's final allegation accused Stowe of engaging in illegal drug use and fraudulent billing activity with a client, in violation of Iowa Rules of ...