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Iowa Supreme Court Atty. Disciplinary Bd. v. Wright

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 26, 2014

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
ROBERT ALLAN WRIGHT JR., Respondent

Page 511

On review of the report of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa. The grievance commission reports respondent committed ethical violations and recommends a one-year suspension of the attorney's license.

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

Alfredo Parrish of Parrish, Kruidenier, Dunn, Boles, Gribble, Gentry & Fisher LLP, Des Moines, for respondent.

OPINION

Page 512

WIGGINS, Justice.

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a complaint against Robert Allan Wright Jr., alleging Wright violated multiple ethical rules. A division of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa found Wright committed numerous violations and recommended a one-year suspension from the practice of law.

On our de novo review, we find the Board established by a convincing preponderance of the evidence that Wright practiced law while his license was suspended and committed various trust account violations. We also find the length of his temporary suspension for the same conduct met or exceeded the time we would have suspended his license, so we will not impose any further suspension for this conduct.

However, because Wright's license is under suspension for other conduct, he must

Page 513

serve that suspension before we will reinstate him to the practice of law.

I. Prior Proceedings.

In 1981, we admitted Wright to the Iowa bar. On August 16, 2012, we entered an order temporarily suspending Wright's license for failing to comply with requests from the client security commission for documents needed to complete an audit of his client trust account. We suspended Wright's license until the client security commission certified Wright had complied with all requests. At this time, we have not lifted the August 2012 suspension.

On January 23, 2013, the client security commission sent the Board a notice, alleging a review of Wright's trust account showed activity consistent with an active practice of law. On January 29, Wright submitted a request to have the August 2012 suspension lifted and his law license reinstated. On February 5, the Board filed a petition requesting we immediately suspend Wright's license under Iowa Court Rule 35.4, for posing a substantial threat of harm to the public predicated on the fact he may have been practicing law while suspended. On February 7, we granted the petition for interim suspension for threat of harm pending a final disposition of the disciplinary proceeding on this matter. We also required the chief judge of the district court to appoint a trustee to inventory Wright's client files, sequester all trust funds, and return all files, funds, and other property to Wright's clients. On February 8, Chief Judge Gamble appointed a trustee. We confirmed the appointment on February 11.

On April 29, the Board filed a complaint alleging Wright was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and had violated the terms of his August 2012 suspension. Wright filed an answer on May 17. Wright admitted to some of the allegations, including that after his suspension he continued to practice law in one case, which he settled on the client's behalf. Wright also denied a number of the allegations, including that he continued to take on new clients, that he gave the appearance he was authorized to practice law, and that he failed to comply with the obligations of his August 2012 suspension.

On July 18, Wright filed a consent to suspension and the Board filed an unresisted motion to stay the disciplinary proceedings. On July 19, the commission granted the Board's motion and indefinitely continued the matter until we had the opportunity to review the consent to suspension. We rejected the consent to suspension on November 21.

In a matter unrelated to the present violations, on December 6, 2013, we suspended Wright's license for engaging in " representation of [his] clients in violation of conflict of interest rules and engaging in misrepresentation or deceit resulting in a client's financial loss." Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Wright, 840 N.W.2d 295, 303 (Iowa 2013). We sanctioned Wright with a suspension of his license to practice law with no possibility of reinstatement for a period of no less than twelve months that will not begin until after we lift the August 2012 temporary suspension. Id. at 304.

On December 27, the Board filed an amendment to the complaint, alleging that on May 27, 2013, Wright engaged in another act of unauthorized practice of law. Wright denied this allegation. The parties filed a stipulation of facts on April 2, 2014. The parties stipulated to the procedural history of the case, to Wright's continued representation of a client after his August 2012 suspension, and to certain trust account activity after his suspension was in effect. The commission held a hearing on the complaints on May 5. The commission

Page 514

found by a convincing preponderance of the evidence Wright had

violated rules 32:5.5 (prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law in any jurisdiction in which a lawyer is licensed); 32:1.16(a)(1) (prohibiting representation of a client when representation of the client will result in violation of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct); 32:1.4 (requiring a lawyer to inform his or her clients of decisions or circumstances that will impact the outcome of their cases); and 32:1.15(c) (prohibiting withdrawal of funds in client trust account prior to earning the fee).

The commission also found violations of

Iowa Court Rules 45.2(2) (requiring a lawyer to promptly account for client's property and promptly deliver to client any property to which the client is entitled); 45.7(5) (requiring unearned advance fees be refunded); and 45.2(3)(b)(3) (prohibiting withdrawals made to cash rather than by check payable to a named payee from client trust fund account).

The commission then recommended we suspend Wright's license with no possibility of reinstatement for one year.

II. Scope of Review.

Neither the Board nor Wright filed an appeal of the commission's recommendation. By rule, we review the recommendation of the commission. Iowa Ct. R. 35.11(1). We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Nelson, 838 N.W.2d 528, 531-32 (Iowa 2013). The Board must prove violations by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 532. " A convincing preponderance of the evidence is more than a ...


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