review from the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission.
commission recommends the revocation of an attorney's
license to practice law for violations of ethical rules.
van Brederode, for complainant.
W. Kowalke, Cresco, pro se.
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board charged
attorney Todd Kowalke with violating the rules of
professional conduct during his representation of the
executors of an estate. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
Commission found Kowalke violated several rules of
professional conduct and recommended revocation of his
license to practice law. Upon our de novo review, we find
Kowalke converted client funds for his personal use, and we
revoke his license to practice law in the State of Iowa.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Kowalke practices law in Cresco, Iowa. He was admitted to the
Iowa bar in 1994. He is also a certified public accountant.
2009, Kowalke agreed to serve as the attorney for the
coexecutors of the estate of Violet B. Brokken. The parties
entered into a fee agreement, which provided that Kowalke
would accept a fee "equal to the amount set forth in
Iowa Code section 633.197." He prepared and filed a
petition for probate of her last will and testament. He
obtained an order from the district court that appointed the
coexecutors and admitted the will to probate.
from the beginning, Kowalke neglected essential duties and
responsibilities as the attorney for the executors. He failed
to respond to an email from a great-nephew of the decedent
and was late in filing the probate inventory and the initial
interlocutory report. In 2011, the interlocutory report
indicated the fiduciary income tax returns and the final
report had not been completed. The 2012 interlocutory report
indicated the remaining work on the estate included filing
the income tax returns, locating several great-nephews and
nieces, and completing the final report. Kowalke reported the
same remaining work in the interlocutory reports filed in
2013, 2014, and 2015. Beginning in 2013, the district court
responded to the reports by ordering Kowalke to complete the
tasks necessary to close the estate. Although Kowalke
represented to the court in each report that the estate was
near completion, he failed to meet his projected deadline
the pendency of the estate, the coexecutors deposited estate
funds into Kowalke's law firm trust account. In 2011,
they deposited $132, 707.89 into the account. In 2015, the
coexecutors deposited $38, 809.06 into the account.
withdrew estate funds from the trust account on several
occasions. In 2011, he withdrew $3692.18. The client ledger
for the trust account reflected this sum represented attorney
fees for his services, but the district court had not
authorized the fees before Kowalke withdrew them from the
trust account. In 2015, he withdrew $2500 from the trust
account and deposited the funds into his firm business
account. The memo line on the trust account check designated
the funds as "Brokken Estate Fees," but the
transaction again occurred without court authorization. After
making some distributions to heirs, Kowalke's client
ledger reflected a balance of $35, 470.06 held in trust for
January 2016, Kowalke withdrew $10, 000 of estate funds from
the trust account for his personal use. He also withdrew
approximately $23, 000 of estate funds to cover expenses
relating to other client matters.
2016, Kowalke filed an application with the district court
for fiduciary and attorney fees in the estate. He computed
the attorney fees to be $3692.18, the same amount he withdrew
as fees in ...