appeal from the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
attorney appeals a report of the grievance commission
recommending we revoke her license to practice law in this
Elizabeth E. Quinlan, Des Moines, for complainant.
L. Brown of Hanson, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board)
brought a complaint against an attorney that alleged multiple
violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct,
including the misappropriation of funds in her representation
of two clients. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission
(commission) found numerous violations of our ethical rules
and recommended a revocation of her license to practice law
in this state. After our de novo review of the record, we
agree with the recommendation of the commission and revoke
the attorney's license to practice law in the State of
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Sandra Suarez-Quilty has been licensed to practice law in the
State of Iowa since 2000. During the period of the conduct
giving rise to this disciplinary action, Suarez-Quilty was a
solo practitioner in Des Moines, Iowa, where she provided
legal services primarily in the areas of immigration law,
family law, and criminal law. Suarez-Quilty stipulated to all
facts contained in the Board's final complaint, which are
described as follows.
McElroy Matter. Suarez-Quilty represented Darlena
McElroy in a guardianship case involving McElroy's
elderly father, Percy McElroy (Percy). After McElroy was
enjoined from acting on Percy's behalf, Suarez-Quilty and
McElroy met with Percy on January 29, 2013, without the
knowledge or consent of his attorney, Jessica Chandler, or
his guardian ad litem, Sarah Dewein. While she was meeting
with Percy, Suarez-Quilty left Chandler a voicemail
proclaiming, "I am sitting with your client . . . and we
have some things we would like to discuss with you."
Chandler returned the call immediately to ask why
Suarez-Quilty was meeting with Percy, to which Suarez-Quilty
responded, "I represent him now."
second phone call that day, Suarez-Quilty informed Chandler
that McElroy was going to remove Percy from his location.
Dewein and a social worker immediately responded to
Percy's location to find Suarez-Quilty there with Percy.
When Dewein confronted Suarez-Quilty with a copy of the
injunction enjoining McElroy from acting as Percy's
guardian, Suarez-Quilty continued to insist that McElroy
would act as Percy's guardian. Despite these facts, at a
hearing in this case conducted on February 8, Suarez-Quilty
told the judge, "I did not visit with Mr. McElroy [on
January 29] with regard to anything as it relates to this
Unauthorized Practice of Law. Suarez-Quilty was
convicted of operating while under the influence of alcohol
(OWI), second offense on February 11, 2013. Her license to
practice law in Iowa was subsequently suspended due to
disability from February 15 until June 4. On April 18, during
her suspension, Suarez-Quilty contacted attorney Christine
Branstad in the course of representing a client in a child
visitation matter. Through the exchange of numerous emails,
Suarez-Quilty negotiated visitation for her client. About a
week later, Suarez-Quilty emailed Branstad again on behalf of
her client stating, "Until official reinstatement (any
day), service will be accepted by [another attorney]."
It was at this point that Branstad learned that
Suarez-Quilty's license was suspended. When Branstad
informed Suarez-Quilty that she was acting improperly,
Suarez-Quilty disagreed and told Branstad that she was
"in compliance and acting in conformity therewith . . .
. feel free to ask . . . about anything you wish prior to
making such hefty allegations as it has been a hard enough
Trust Account Issues. Following an audit that was
initiated on March 27, 2013, the auditor's report showed
Suarez-Quilty had the following deficiencies: "Failure
to properly deposit client receipts into the trust
account" on several occasions; "[f]ailure to
maintain a receipt and disbursements journal;"
"[f]ailure to maintain ledger records;"
"[f]ailure to maintain accountings to clients;"
"[f]ailure to maintain copies of bills;"
"[f]ailure to maintain a checkbook register;"
"[f]ailure to maintain records of all electronic
transfers from client trust accounts;" "[f]ailure
to prepare written monthly reconciliations of the client
trust account bank statements to the check register, monthly
reconciliations of check register to client account totals,
and a monthly trial balance of open client account
balances;" "[f]ailure to deposit advance fee and
expense payments;" and "[f]ailure to provide
notification upon withdrawal of fee or expense." Another
audit report dated July 3, 2014, revealed many of the same
deficiencies with the exception of failure to maintain
accounting to clients, failure to maintain copies of client
billing statements, and failure to provide clients with
timely notifications upon her withdrawal of fees or expenses.
Suarez-Quilty also failed to provide the auditor with all
records requested between December 2013 and April 2014.
Ferazz Matter. Stephen Ferazz retained Suarez-Quilty
to represent him in a custody modification matter on May 8,
2014. He gave Suarez-Quilty a $1500 retainer, but they did
not enter into a written fee agreement. On May 30,
Suarez-Quilty withdrew this $1500 from her trust account, yet
did not provide Ferazz with a contemporaneous billing
statement. She did not communicate with Ferazz between June
18 and July 22.
unclear when the opposing party sent Suarez-Quilty the draft
of a modification agreement, but the opposing party contacted
Suarez-Quilty on July 7 asking for clarification. On July 22,
Suarez-Quilty emailed Ferazz informing him that she spent
fifteen hours on his case and she needed him to pay the
balance. Ferazz requested an itemization of his $1500 fee
payment. On July 24, in the presence of another attorney,
Ferazz telephonically severed his attorney-client
relationship with Suarez-Quilty. Suarez-Quilty subsequently
emailed him that day, saying, "[W]ish you the best of
luck moving forward. I will plan on writing off the rest of
your balance given your dissatisfaction."
on July 25, Suarez-Quilty again emailed Ferazz to inform him
that she did not know whether the other party agreed to
anything in his case. Then, on July 26, Suarez-Quilty sent
Ferazz an invoice for $800 which showed that she had only
earned $1360 in fees at the time she withdrew Ferazz's
entire $1500 retainer. Despite Ferazz's decision to sever
the attorney-client ...