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Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Hedgecoth

Supreme Court of Iowa

April 10, 2015

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
JOHN D. HEDGECOTH, Respondent

Page 355

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 356

On review of the report of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa. The grievance commission reports an attorney violated several rules of professional conduct and recommends suspension.

Charles L. Harrington and Elizabeth E. Quinlan, for complainant.

John D. Hedgecoth, Des Moines, Pro se.

OPINION

Page 357

HECHT, Justice

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (the Board) charged attorney John D. Hedgecoth with violating multiple rules of professional conduct after the Board received three separate complaints. After a hearing, the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission (the commission) found Hedgecoth violated several rules and recommended suspension of his license for six months plus several conditions of reinstatement.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Hedgecoth was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1998. He estimates that since being admitted, he has been actively practicing for seven-and-a-half years. He initially practiced law from 1998 to 2005, taking one year off in 2002 to run for political office. From 2005 to 2011, he closed his law practice and worked as a policy advisor and political campaign staffer. After those endeavors were completed, Hedgecoth returned to the practice of law.

In June 2012, while engaged in the practice of law, Hedgecoth signed an employment contract with a gubernatorial candidate. The contract provided for a sliding scale of employment, initially requiring twenty percent of Hedgecoth's time, and gradually increasing over time to a full-time commitment. Accordingly, from January through November 2014, Hedgecoth worked full time for the political campaign and did not actively practice law.

A. Odell Everett Matter.

In July 2012, shortly after signing the employment contract with the political campaign, Hedgecoth was court appointed to represent Odell Everett Jr. in a postconviction-relief appeal. On October 19, 2012, Hedgecoth was ordered to file a combined certificate and an application to waive filing fees. Hedgecoth did not comply with the order. Accordingly, on November 6, the clerk of the Iowa Supreme Court sent Hedgecoth a letter informing him default would be entered against his client if the documents were not immediately filed. Hedgecoth again failed to file the required documents, and as a result, on January 30, 2013, the clerk entered a notice of default and assessed a penalty of $150 against Hedgecoth.

Hedgecoth was given an additional fifteen days to cure the default and was warned that noncompliance could result in referral to the Board. The fifteen-day period elapsed with no response from Hedgecoth. Several weeks later, on March 6, Hedgecoth applied for and was granted an extension of time for curing the default. Despite the extension, Hedgecoth still failed to file the required documents, resulting in another notice of default and another penalty of $150. Although he received an express warning that his failure to cure the default could result in a referral to the Board, Hedgecoth took no action. Responding to Hedgecoth's inaction, this court removed Hedgecoth as counsel on May 8 and notified the Board.

Page 358

On May 9, the Board notified Hedgecoth of the complaint and requested his response. Although he received the notice of complaint, Hedgecoth made no response. On July 10, the Board sent a second notice to Hedgecoth requesting a response to the complaint, and again Hedgecoth acknowledged receipt but did not respond. Accordingly, the Board's administrator sought and we entered an order temporarily suspending Hedgecoth's license to practice law. Hedgecoth eventually responded to the complaint, and the suspension was lifted.

B. Stephanie Sexton Matter.

On August 16, 2012, Hedgecoth was court appointed as counsel for Stephanie Sexton in a criminal appeal. He filed his appearance on August 17. On October 19, the clerk of court issued an order directing Hedgecoth to file a combined certificate and application to waive filing fees within fourteen days. Hedgecoth failed to timely file the required documents. The clerk of court issued a notice of default and assessed a penalty of $150 against Hedgecoth for this conduct. The notice again warned Hedgecoth that the Board would be notified if he should fail to cure the default.

On March 6, 2013, Hedgecoth filed the combined certificate and an application to waive filing fees. Hedgecoth further indicated he would prepare a statement of the evidence or proceedings, but he failed to do so. On June 26, the clerk of court entered a second notice of default and assessment of penalty in the Sexton appeal when Hedgecoth failed to timely file a proof brief and designation of appendix. The notice warned the matter would be dismissed if the default was not remedied. Hedgecoth again failed to take responsive action. On July 30, this court removed Hedgecoth as Sexton's counsel and notified the Board.

The Board subsequently mailed Hedgecoth a notice of complaint and requested his response. Hearing no response, the Board sought and we ordered temporary suspension of Hedgecoth's license. Hedgecoth was reinstated five days later after he filed a response to the complaint.

C. Lisa Howard Matter.

In March 2013, Hedgecoth undertook the representation of Lisa Howard, a defendant in a civil matter. On Howard's behalf, Hedgecoth filed an answer to the original petition and asserted counterclaims. On July 29, opposing counsel in the case filed a notice of serving discovery and subsequently served Hedgecoth with requests for production, interrogatories, and requests for admissions. Hedgecoth did not respond to these discovery requests.

On August 26, opposing counsel filed an amended petition. Hedgecoth did not file an answer. On September 5, plaintiff's counsel sent Hedgecoth a letter requesting discovery responses. After Hedgecoth failed to respond, opposing counsel filed a motion to compel discovery responses on September 13. Hedgecoth did not file any response or resistance to this motion.

On September 24, opposing counsel served a second set of interrogatories on Hedgecoth, and Hedgecoth again failed to respond. On October 15, the district court entered an order compelling discovery responses. On October 23, opposing counsel filed a motion for sanctions because Hedgecoth had yet to comply with the district court's October 15 order. Hedgecoth did not file a resistance to this motion.

On October 29, opposing counsel requested from Hedgecoth available dates for a deposition of Howard. After Hedgecoth failed to respond to this request, opposing counsel served a notice of deposition of the defendant on November 5. The deposition was scheduled for November 13, but neither Hedgecoth nor his client

Page 359

appeared for the deposition. On November 14, opposing counsel filed a second motion for sanctions, and the district court held a hearing on the matter on November 21.

On November 22, the district court ordered Hedgecoth to file an answer to the second amended petition, provide responses to the first set of discovery requests and the second set of interrogatories, and make his client available for deposition by December 6. The court also ordered Hedgecoth to pay the opposing party over $2100 in costs for attorney fees resulting from Hedgecoth's failures to timely respond to discovery requests and his noncompliance with the court's previous order compelling discovery. However, Hedgecoth failed to produce the requested discovery as ordered and opposing counsel filed a third motion for sanctions on December 6.

On December 13, the district court held a hearing on the third motion for sanctions. Hedgecoth attended the hearing, but arrived late. The district court noted that although Hedgecoth had finally provided interrogatory responses, they were deficient and untimely. Further, the court concluded Hedgecoth had not communicated adequately with opposing counsel and had provided discovery responses that were unresponsive and clearly not in final form.

On December 20, the district court granted the third motion for sanctions, finding Hedgecoth had failed to comply with the district court's November 22 order. The court ordered Hedgecoth to: (1) file an answer to the second amended petition; (2) hand deliver complete responses to the plaintiff's discovery requests to opposing counsel by December 24; (3) make Howard available for deposition by January 8, 2014; and (4) reimburse opposing counsel ...


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