appeal from the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
commission recommends a suspension of an attorney's
license to practice law for violations of ethical rules.
H. Powell, West Des Moines, pro se.
van Brederode and Amanda K. Robinson, Des Moines, for
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board charged
attorney Rodney Powell with violating the rules of
professional conduct pertaining to conflicts of interest with
current clients, using information obtained in the course of
representation against current clients, and using information
obtained in the course of representation against former
clients. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found
Powell violated the rules and recommended a six-month
suspension. Upon our de novo review, we find Powell violated
the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and impose a two-year
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Powell is seventy years old. He has been licensed to practice
law in Iowa since 1973. His legal background and disciplinary
history was last documented in an opinion by this court in
2013. See Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v.
Powell (Powell II), 830 N.W.2d 355, 356-57
(Iowa 2013). At that time, we added to his disciplinary
history by finding he engaged in a series of trust fund
violations over a period of years. Id. at 357-58.
The violations primarily involved the premature withdrawal of
attorney fees from his trust account. Id. at 357. We
imposed an interim suspension from the practice of law for
seven months followed by an additional suspension of three
months. Id. at 356, 359-60. Powell had been
previously suspended from the practice of law in 2007 for six
months after he engaged in a series of unethical actions over
a period of time involving the collection of attorney fees.
Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v.
Powell (Powell I), 726 N.W.2d 397, 408 (Iowa
2007). Powell was also privately admonished in 2005 for
charging an excessive fee in a case and was privately
admonished in 2010 "for failing to make an accounting
before withdrawing fees from his trust account."
Powell II, 830 N.W.2d at 356.
disciplinary action, Powell is accused of obtaining a $20,
000 loan from the administrator of an estate during the time
he served as the designated attorney for the estate in
violation of the rules of professional conduct. The
administrator was the beneficiary of a $40, 000 life
insurance policy on the life of the decedent in the estate.
The insurance company paid the insurance proceeds to Powell,
and he deposited them in his law firm trust account. At the
request of Powell, the administrator orally agreed to loan
Powell $20, 000 of the proceeds. Powell withdrew the loan
proceeds from the trust account before a written loan
agreement was executed. The written agreement subsequently
prepared by Powell provided for the law firm to repay the
loan in monthly installments at ten percent interest. The
amount of each monthly payment was to be based on an
unspecified amount of firm receipts received during the
preceding month. Powell claimed he asked the administrator if
he wished to seek independent counsel before agreeing to make
the loan. The administrator denied any request was made.
subsequently made sporadic and minimal monthly payments. The
administrator eventually filed a breach-of-contract action.
Powell settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay $25, 000 to the
administrator in monthly installments of $1500.
Board charged Powell with violating Iowa Rules of
Professional Conduct 32:1.8(a) (improperly entering into a
business transaction with a client), 32:1.8(b) (using
information relating to representation of a client to the
disadvantage of the client), and 32:1.9(c) (using information
relating to the representation of a former client to the
disadvantage of the former client). The commission found
Powell violated Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:1.8(a),
1.8(b), and 1.9(c). It recommended that Powell's license
to practice law be suspended for six months. It also
recommended Powell reimburse the administrator's travel
costs to testify at the hearing.
client has a right to expect loyalty and independent judgment
from an attorney." Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y
Disciplinary Bd. v. Johnston, 732 N.W.2d 448, 455 (Iowa
2007); see also Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics
& Conduct v. Fay, 619 N.W.2d 321, 326 (Iowa 2000)
("A person who seeks legal advice must be able to
'expect unfettered independence of professional judgment
of a lawyer whose loyalty to that person is total.'
" (quoting Comm. on Prof'l Ethics & Conduct
v. Oehler, 350 N.W.2d 195, 199 (Iowa 1984))). This
concept is crucial to the client-lawyer relationship, and
thus, it rightfully pervades our rules on conflicts of
interest with clients and the duties owed to them.
See Iowa Rs. Prof'l Conduct 32:1.8-.9.
rule 32:1.8(a) does not prohibit business dealings between a
lawyer and his or her client, it imposes stringent
requirements on such a transaction." Iowa Supreme
Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Marks, 814 N.W.2d 532,
538 (Iowa 2012). Of particular importance, the rule
"requires that the client . . . be advised, in writing,
of the desirability of seeking the advice of independent
legal counsel, " and "that the client be given a
reasonable opportunity to obtain such advice." Iowa R.
Prof'l Conduct 32:1.8 cmt. 2. These requirements
"mitigate 'the possibility of overreaching'
created by an attorney's 'legal skill and training,
together with the relationship of trust and confidence
between lawyer and client.' " Iowa Supreme Ct.
Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Pederson, 887 N.W.2d 387,
391-92 (Iowa 2016) (quoting Iowa R. Prof'l Conduct 32:1.8
cmt. 1). In other words, the rule not only discourages
fraudulent activity by attorneys, see, e.g.,
Comm. on Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Yates,
420 N.W.2d 455, 457-58 (Iowa 1988) (noting attorney failed to
advise clients to seek other legal counsel and then
successfully converted client funds), but also helps to
ensure well-meaning attorneys do not inadvertently cause
serious harm to their clients, see, e.g., Iowa
Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Wright, 840
N.W.2d 295, 301-02 (Iowa 2013) (concluding attorney violated
rule requiring ...