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Iowa Supreme Court Atty. Disciplinary Bd. v. Conroy

Supreme Court of Iowa

April 4, 2014

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
JAMES STEPHEN CONROY, Respondent

Page 60

On review of the report of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa. Grievance commission reports respondent committed numerous violations of the rules of professional conduct and recommends suspension.

Charles L. Harrington and David J. Grace, Des Moines, for complainant.

James S. Conroy, Mount Vernon, Pro se.

OPINION

Page 61

ZAGER, Justice.

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board filed a complaint against the respondent, James S. Conroy, alleging he violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. After a hearing, a division of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa found Conroy violated numerous provisions of our rules of professional conduct. The commission recommended we suspend Conroy's license for six months and require that he complete a basic skills course before being reinstated. Upon our de novo review, we concur in most of the findings of rule violations and agree a six-month suspension is appropriate.

Page 62

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

James Conroy is an Iowa attorney admitted to practice in 2003. After his admission, Conroy worked for about six months for a private firm with offices in Grinnell and Newton. He then spent the next two years as an assistant county attorney in Black Hawk County. In 2006, Conroy established a solo practice in Cedar Rapids. Conroy's practice consisted mostly of representing criminal defendants on a court-appointed basis in Black Hawk, Johnson, Linn, and Scott Counties.

On August 1, 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board) filed a one-count complaint alleging Conroy violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. The alleged violations stemmed from Conroy's court-appointed representation of Christopher Brown, Richard Brown, James Gill Jr., Ravin Miller, Joshua Strother, and Todd Wiese in their appeals. The alleged facts were generally the same in each of the six cases. After being appointed appellate counsel, Conroy neglected the appeals. Default notices were issued to Conroy by the Iowa Supreme Court, and he failed to cure the defaults. His failure to cure the defaults subjected each appeal to dismissal. Rather than dismiss each appeal, however, in each case the Iowa Supreme Court removed Conroy as appellate counsel and new counsel was appointed.

Based on these facts, the Board alleged Conroy violated Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:1.1 (requiring competence), 32:1.3 (requiring diligence), 32:1.4 (requiring communication with clients), 32:1.16(a) (prohibiting representation of a client under certain circumstances), 32:3.2 (requiring reasonable efforts to expedite litigation), and 32:8.4(d) (prohibiting conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). Conroy answered the complaint on August 29, admitting the Board's allegations.

On September 23, the Board amended its complaint to include a second count against Conroy. The Board alleged Conroy was appointed to represent Darnell Demery in his postconviction relief proceeding. The Board alleged Conroy did not communicate with Demery and neglected the case, failing to make a single filing in the year he represented Demery. After Demery moved to have a new attorney appointed, Conroy was removed from the case in June 2013.

On these facts, the Board alleged violations of Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:1.1, 32:1.3, 32:1.4, 32:3.2, and 32:8.4(d). Conroy never responded to the allegations in count two of the Board's amended complaint. Consequently, the Board moved to have the allegations of count two deemed admitted under Iowa Court Rule 36.7. The commission granted the motion and limited the scope of the disciplinary hearing to the issue of the appropriate sanction.

At the disciplinary hearing conducted in October, the Board presented evidence of Conroy's violations. Conroy appeared at the hearing and admitted to the violations contained in the complaints. However, he asked for leniency from the commission. He explained that he was unfamiliar with appeal procedures, and rather than educate himself to these procedures, he simply set them aside to concentrate on more familiar work. He did not understand that appeals were time sensitive. Conroy acknowledged that he made no attempts to determine any procedural deadlines by consulting the appellate rules, seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney, or consulting with the appellate defenders. Conroy had never filed an appeal before signing up to be court-appointed on these

Page 63

appeal cases. Conroy denied any substance abuse or mental ...


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