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Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board Complainant v. Guthrie

Supreme Court of Iowa

September 15, 2017

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
LUKE D. GUTHRIE, Respondent.

          On review of the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission.

         The grievance commission found the respondent committed multiple ethical violations and recommends a three-month license suspension. LICENSE REVOKED.

          Tara M. van Brederode, Des Moines, and Andrew J. Boettger of Hastings, Gartin & Boettger, Ames, for complainant.

          David L. Brown and Tyler R. Smith of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for respondent.

          ZAGER, JUSTICE.

         The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board) filed a complaint against an attorney alleging multiple violations of our ethical rules including the misappropriation of funds in his representation of three clients. The Board also alleged the attorney violated ethical rules arising from his conviction for domestic abuse assault. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission (commission) found eight violations of our ethical rules and recommended a three-month suspension. For the reasons outlined below, we revoke the attorney's license to practice law in the state of Iowa.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Attorney Luke Guthrie has been licensed to practice law in the state of Iowa since 2006. At the time of the conduct giving rise to this disciplinary action, Guthrie was practicing law at Roberts, Stevens, Prendergast, and Guthrie, PLLC, in Waterloo, Iowa. On November 11, 2015, Guthrie was arrested for domestic abuse assault, first offense, in Grundy County, Iowa. On November 12, Guthrie informed his law partners that he was self-admitting himself into a substance-abuse treatment program and took a leave of absence from the firm. After becoming aware of other potential ethical violations, the firm terminated Guthrie's partnership on November 24. As part of the termination, the firm informed Guthrie he would need to self-report his potential ethical violations or the firm would do so. Guthrie self-reported the potential ethical misconduct to the Board on December 7. The ethical misconduct arose out of his handling of billings and trust account issues in three separate client matters, in addition to Guthrie's arrest for domestic abuse assault.

         A. Vogel Matter.

         Guthrie represented Brian Vogel in a modification action which was finalized by decree on July 22, 2015. A notice of appeal was filed by the opposing party on August 21. On September 25, Guthrie and Vogel signed a fee contract and Vogel paid a retainer of $4965.50, which was deposited into the firm's trust account. On October 16, the appellant voluntarily dismissed the appeal. This voluntary dismissal of appeal was electronically received by Guthrie and his office at 10:35 a.m. that same date. Guthrie was notified by staff of the dismissal, but directed staff not to notify Vogel of the dismissal.

         On the same day as the voluntary dismissal, Guthrie billed Vogel for 4.1 hours of work amounting to $717.50. Guthrie claimed that this time was for work on the proof brief and designation. On October 22, Guthrie billed Vogel for two hours of time for work on the final brief/reply brief in the amount of $350. On October 23, Guthrie billed Vogel for two hours of work on the final proof brief in the amount of $350. On October 26, Guthrie billed Vogel for two hours of time for receipt and review of appellant's brief in the amount of $350. Finally, on October 28, Guthrie billed Vogel for 1.8 hours of work on his brief in the amount of $315. There was also an additional charge for fees of $190 after the voluntary dismissal. Therefore, following the voluntary dismissal, Guthrie billed Vogel an additional 8.6 hours in the amount of $1505 for work that was never performed.

         A staff member prepared a preliminary bill for review by Guthrie. At that time, she questioned what would happen if the client requested copies of Guthrie's work product he had billed for. Guthrie told the staff person that he doubted Vogel would ever ask for copies of the work product he billed him for, but if he did, he would have to figure something out. Guthrie had performed no work on the proof brief, designation of appendix, or reply brief for which he billed Vogel.

         On November 6, Guthrie directed staff at the firm to transfer $3797.50 from Vogel's trust subaccount to the firm's general account. That same day, Guthrie withdrew $600 as a check for fees in the Vogel case. Vogel was not advised of the dismissal of the appeal until November 15, nine days after the unearned fees were taken and three days after Guthrie took his leave of absence from the firm. The firm refunded Vogel all funds for the unearned fees.

         B. Dizdarevic Matter.

         Guthrie also represented Muhamed Dizdarevic in a child custody case. On November 6, 2015, Guthrie billed Dizdarevic $262.50 for a 1.5 hour telephone conference with opposing counsel. Guthrie admitted no telephone conference occurred, which was also confirmed by opposing counsel. On the same day, Guthrie directed staff at the firm to transfer $332.50 from Dizdarevic's trust subaccount to the firm's general account. He thereafter withdrew $600 as a check for fees in the Dizdarevic case. The firm reimbursed Dizdarevic for the unearned fees.

         C. ...


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