IOWA SUPREME COURT COMMISSION ON THE UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW, Appellee,
RAYMOND WILLIAM SULLINS, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Emmet County, Duane E.
Hoffmeyer, Chief Judge.
attorney appeals district court order enjoining him from the
unauthorized practice of law. DISTRICT COURT INJUNCTION
Raymond William Sullins, pro se.
Tré Critelli of Iowa Supreme Court Commission on the
Unauthorized Practice of Law, Des Moines, for appellee.
appeal, we must decide whether a disbarred attorney engaged
in the unauthorized practice of law when he took a partial
assignment of a judgment for back-due child support from a
friend who owed him money and they both pursued collection in
the same court proceedings. Nonlawyers can represent
themselves in court to pursue collection on claims they
wholly own by assignment. But a nonlawyer cannot represent
another party in court. After a bench trial, the district
court found this former lawyer engaged in the practice of law
because his friend stood to receive part of the recovery on
the assigned claim, and he helped her pursue collection of
her own claims. We reach the same conclusion on our de novo
review of the record and, therefore, affirm the injunction
entered by the district court.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
de novo review, we find the following facts.
2012, Raymond Sullins met Sarita Henricksen, a woman living
in Earlham, Iowa. They became friends, and he loaned her
between $24, 000 and $28, 000 by paying her living expenses
for six months. This case arises from his efforts to collect
money her ex-husband owed her.
revoked Sullins's license to practice law in 2002.
Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct
v. Sullins (Sullins III), 648 N.W.2d 127,
136-37 (Iowa 2002). Sullins had previously received an
admonishment, two public reprimands, and a license suspension
of one year. See Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l
Ethics & Conduct v. Sullins (Sullins II),
613 N.W.2d 656, 656, 657 (Iowa 2000) (per curiam) (suspending
license); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics &
Conduct v. Sullins (Sullins I), 556 N.W.2d 456,
456, 457 (Iowa 1996) (reprimanding Sullins and noting prior
reprimand and admonishment). When we suspended his license
due to trust account violations and neglect of four client
matters, we stated Sullins was "unwilling or unable to
discharge the duties required in the practice."
Sullins II, 613 N.W.2d at 656. When we later revoked
his license for neglect of another six client matters and
additional trust account violations, we stated,
We must bear in mind the purposes of attorney disciplinary
proceedings which include: protecting the courts and the
public from persons unfit to practice law, vindicating public
confidence in the integrity of our system of justice,
assuring the public the courts will maintain the ethics of
the profession, and deterring other lawyers from similar
misconduct. The evidence clearly shows Sullins should not
practice law. His conduct reflects a deep misunderstanding of
his obligations as a lawyer and disrespect for this entire
profession. We find the seriousness of these violations
warrant revocation of his license to practice law.
Sullins III, 648 N.W.2d at 136 (citation omitted).
Sullins remains disbarred.
1989, Sarita and her husband, Jim Henricksen, obtained a
divorce in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma decree ordered Jim to pay
Sarita child support for their two children, born in 1984 and
1987, respectively. Jim failed to pay much of his child
support, resulting in a substantial arrearage. Jim's
parents owned farmland in Iowa and died two decades after his
divorce. Jim stood to receive a sizeable inheritance. On
October 5, 2012, a probate petition was filed in the Iowa
District Court for Emmet County to administer Jim's
father's estate. Two months later, another probate
petition was filed to administer Jim's mother's
estate. The combined estates included property valued at over
August 2013, Sullins began giving Sarita money for her living
expenses after she lost her teaching job. Sullins loaned
Sarita money for her mortgage payment, utility bills, car
payment, student loan payment, groceries, medical bills,
medication bills, veterinarian bills, and other expenses.
Sometimes he paid her bills directly. Sullins estimated he
paid Sarita about $2000 monthly. Sullins knew Sarita's
ex-husband owed her money. He told Sarita that he wanted an
assignment of part of her interest in the support judgment,
to repay the money he loaned her or spent on her behalf.
Sarita agreed to the assignment. Sarita and Sullins disagree
about whether he planned to remit to her amounts collected on
the assigned claims above what she owed him.
Proceedings to Secure Child Support Payments.
October, Sullins and Sarita met with attorney Phil Redenbaugh
in Storm Lake about collecting the back-due support payments.
Redenbaugh agreed to review the documents Sarita brought and
advise her about how to proceed. Because Redenbaugh was a
long-time family friend of Sarita, he told her he would not
charge for his services. Sullins informed Redenbaugh of his
intent to take an assignment and enter the action to secure
the funds. Redenbaugh told Sarita she may be able to
"join in" whatever Sullins filed. Redenbaugh asked
Sullins to send him any documents before filing so he could
review them and determine whether he was comfortable with
gave Sarita the impression that recovering the back-due child
support would be simple. She told Sullins after the meeting
she did not "want to be imposing on Phil any more than
what [she had] to" and "if it's so easy, why
[couldn't she] do it [herself]?" She asked what
"join in" meant. Sullins introduced her to Jerry
Wieslander, an attorney friend, to help her. Sarita spoke
with Wieslander by phone. On October 9, Sarita sent a letter
and a copy of the Oklahoma divorce decree to the clerk of
Emmet County, claiming a portion of Jim's inheritance.
Five days later, the clerk filed a notice of foreign
judgment, captioned "Sarita Henricksen v. Jim
Henricksen, Emmet County No. TJCV018129." Two
months later, Sarita asked the clerk to issue a writ of
general execution to the sheriff in the amount of $353,
819.10 plus interest. The writ was issued December 30. On the
estate executor's application, the court scheduled a
"Hearing of Priority of Claims" on March 3, 2014.
Shortly before the hearing, the executor requested a
continuance until March 17, which the court granted.
and Sarita filed a number of legal documents on March
3. Each of them signed and filed
their respective documents "pro se, " unrepresented
matter of Henricksen v. Henricksen, Sarita filed a
handwritten, unnotarized document entitled "ASSIGNMENTS
OF JUDGMENTS IN CASE #TJCV018129, " purportedly
assigning to Sullins her support judgments for the years
1987, 1988, and 1989. The filing stated:
Sarita Henricksen for good and valuable consideration receipt
of which is hereby acknowledged assigns the following
judgments to Ray Sullins:
All support judgments for 1987, 1989 [sic], and 1989 in the
Oklahoma decree in Emmet County Iowa in case #TJCV018129.
assignment was signed by Sarita but not dated. The document
did not mention any release of Sarita's indebtedness to
Sullins or what was paid for the assignment.
the same day filed a typewritten "APPLICATION FOR ORDER
UNDER SECTION UNDER SECTION [sic] 252K.305(2)(f) AND (g) CODE
OF IOWA" as "assignee of Sarita Henricksen."
Sullins sought to levy on real estate Jim was going to
inherit. Sarita filed a handwritten document bearing the same
caption, including the same error: "APPLICATION FOR
ORDER UNDER SECTION UNDER SECTION [sic] 252K.305(2)(f) AND
(g) CODE OF IOWA." Sarita joined Sullins's
application. Sarita's motion was filed at 10:03 a.m.,
four minutes before Sullins's motion.
estate proceedings, Sullins filed a typewritten
"RESISTANCE TO MOTION TO CONTINUE HEARING ON CLAIMS AND
REQUEST FOR ORDER" as "assignee of Sarita
Henricksen" at 10:08 a.m. This filing incorrectly put a
space in the caption, "ES PROO9643, " and used
capital "O"s instead of zeros. Three minutes
earlier, Sarita had filed a handwritten "RESISTANCE TO
MOTION TO CONTINUE HEARING ON CLAIMS AND REQUEST FOR
ORDER" bearing the same errors in the caption. Sarita
requested to join Sullins's motion.
March 17, the district court held the hearing of priority of
claims under section 252K.305. Sarita did not appear. Sullins
reported she attempted to call into the hearing but could not
get through. Sullins appeared and claimed the assignment gave
him standing to participate in the action. He made arguments
in support of both of their claims.
Proceedings Regarding the Unauthorized Practice of
August 13, the Iowa Supreme Court Commission on the
Unauthorized Practice of Law (Commission) filed a complaint
in the Iowa District Court for Emmet County pursuant to Iowa
Court Rule 37.2. The complaint alleged the Commission had
reasonable cause to believe Sullins was practicing law
without a license. The Commission alleged Sullins committed
the following acts constituting the practice of law:
a. The drafting and filing of legal documents in two matters
in Emmet County:
i. In Sarita Henricksen v. Jim Henricksen, Emmet Cnty. No.
ii. In the Matter of the Estate of Darlene Henricksen, Emmet
Cnty. Probate Docket ESPR009643
b. The representation of the legal interests of Sarita
Henricksen in the above captioned matters.
Commission did not contest the validity of Sarita's
assignment. However, it pointed out this complaint was not
the first instance of Sullins attempting to use assignments
to represent another person. Four years earlier, Sullins had
received a cease and desist letter from the Commission after
obtaining an assigned interest and attempting to use it to
represent other parties. See Daggy v. Mersch, No.
LACV-017595, Ruling on Mot. to Recuse, (Iowa Dist. Ct. for
Humboldt Cty. filed July 20, 2010).
Commission requested the district court enter a
"permanent injunction prohibiting [Sullins] from
engaging in activities which constitute the unauthorized
practice of law, including but not limited to the use of
legal assignments of interest as a means for representing the
legal interests of others." On October 31, the district
court held a show-cause hearing pursuant to Iowa Court Rule
37.2(2). The Commission argued the matching incorrect
captions and near-simultaneous filings by Sullins and Sarita
indicated Sullins either drafted Sarita's filings or
allowed her to copy his filings. The Commission asserted
Sullins represented Sarita's interests by advising her on
the significance of the documents. It also alleged Sullins
represented Sarita's interests at the hearing on ...