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Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Springer

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 1, 2017

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
JASON A. SPRINGER, Respondent.

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

         Grievance commission recommends the revocation of an attorney's license to practice law for violations of ethical rules. LICENSE SUSPENDED.

          Tara van Brederode and Wendell J. Harms, Des Moines, for complainant.

          Mark McCormick of Belin McCormick, P.C., Des Moines, for respondent.

          CADY, Chief Justice.

         The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board charged attorney Jason Springer with violating the rules of professional conduct for preparing fraudulent documents in transactions involving the sale of real estate. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found Springer violated the rules and recommended that his license to practice law be revoked. Upon our de novo review, we find Springer violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and impose a suspension of two years.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Jason Springer was admitted to practice law in Iowa in 2002. He resides in Madrid and is well regarded by other lawyers in the profession. He is active in a number of community activities, including volunteering for the Madrid Fire Department and coaching youth basketball and baseball. He is also active in his church. He suffered from alcohol abuse prior to seeking treatment in 2015. Prior to this proceeding, Springer practiced real estate and personal injury law and had no disciplinary history. His license to practice law, however, was suspended on November 9, 2016, in a separate action based on the conduct giving rise to this proceeding.

         The conduct responsible for this proceeding relates back to 2008 when Springer assisted two clients in organizing a business that negotiated the sale of homes for financially distressed owners in lieu of foreclosure. His clients would first negotiate a price for the house that the lender would accept in settlement of the outstanding balance of the mortgage. Once the sale price was fixed, the clients would purchase the home for the short sale amount. Then, often the same day or a few days later, the clients would sell the home to a prearranged third party for a profit.

         Springer assisted his clients in the two-part transaction. First, Springer and his office staff would perform the work needed to close the sale of the house between the parties to the foreclosure and his clients. This work included completing a HUD-1 form, disbursing the funds, and collecting a fee. Second, Springer and his office staff would perform the services necessary to close the second sale of the home to the third party. Again, this work included completing a HUD-1 form, disbursing the funds, and collecting a fee. From 2009 to 2011, Springer assisted his clients in approximately forty such transactions.

         In seven of the transactions, however, Springer's clients were without sufficient funds to purchase the homes secured by the delinquent mortgages. During such transactions, to complete the first sale, Springer would falsely represent to the lender on the HUD-1 form that his clients paid cash at the short sale closing. The clients would present Springer with a check made payable to the lender for the purchase price, which Springer would hold to deposit until the second sale was closed. Springer would then disburse the sale proceeds from the second sale to his clients by depositing the proceeds into their account. Once the funds were secured, he would deposit the check representing the sale price in the first transaction drawn on the account from his clients to the mortgage lender.

         The false documents prepared by Springer and his staff in the course of the transaction concealed from the lender that Springer's clients did not have sufficient funds to purchase the home. The documents further concealed that the clients used the proceeds from the second sale to finance the first sale.

         In 2011, Springer learned while attending a continuing legal education seminar that the short sale transactions violated federal law. He stopped performing the services for his clients a short time later.

         In 2015, Springer was convicted in federal court of seven counts of bank fraud for knowingly executing a scheme to defraud a financial institution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(1) (2012). He was ultimately sentenced to four months in prison, placed on probation for two years, and fined in the amount of $15, 000. He served the sentence in 2016 and 2017.

         In 2016, the Board filed a complaint against Springer. It charged Springer with violating Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:1.2(d) (assisting a client in conduct the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent), 32:1.16(a)(1) (failing to withdraw from the representation of a client if the representation will result in violating a rule of professional conduct), 32:4.1(a) (knowingly making a false statement of material fact or law to a third person), 32:4.1(b) (knowingly failing to disclose a material fact to a third person when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act), and 32:8.4(b) (committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects).

         After a hearing in which Springer stipulated that offensive issue preclusion based on his criminal convictions applied to the charges in the complaint, the grievance commission found that Springer engaged in the conduct underlying each count of bank fraud. The commission then concluded Springer violated rules 32:1.2(d), 32:1.16(a)(1), 32:4.1(a), 32:4.1(b), and 32:8.4(b). The commission recommended that Springer's license to practice law be revoked. Springer resists the grievance commission's recommended sanction.

         II. Scope of Review.

         We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Ct. R. 36.21(1). The Board must "prove attorney misconduct by a convincing preponderance of the evidence." Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Engelmann, 840 N.W.2d 156, 158 (Iowa 2013). "This burden is less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but more than the preponderance standard required in the usual civil case." Id. (quoting Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 142 (Iowa 2004)). Although we respectfully consider the commission's factual findings and recommended sanction, we are not bound by them. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Bieber, 824 N.W.2d 514, 518 (Iowa 2012). If we conclude an attorney violated a rule of professional conduct, we "may ...


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