review of the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
commission recommends the suspension of an attorney's
license for violations of ethical rules.
van Brederode and Wendell J. Harms, Des Moines, for
B. Saunders, Spirit Lake, pro se.
attorney disciplinary proceeding requires us to address the
recurring problem of attorneys who take premature probate
fees. Before work was completed on an estate-in fact, over a
year before the final report was filed and the court costs
were paid-an attorney billed and collected the second half of
his probate fee. Notably, the attorney had been publicly
reprimanded for the same type of misconduct just a year and a
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board)
charged the attorney with violating several rules, including
Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:1.5(a) and 32:1.15(c).
The parties stipulated to facts and rule violations and
jointly recommended a thirty-day suspension in light of the
attorney's recent, prior reprimand for the identical
misbehavior. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission
agreed with that recommendation and passed it along to us.
We, too, find violations of rules 32:1.5(a) and 32:1.15(c)
and agree with the recommended sanction. Accordingly, we
impose a thirty-day suspension on the attorney's license
to practice law in Iowa.
Facts and Procedural History.
Saunders was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1985 and maintains a
private practice in Spirit Lake.
about January 23, 2015, Steven Wallace died intestate in
Spirit Lake at the age of 57, leaving his son Jarrod and
daughter Malia as his heirs. On January 28, Saunders filed
papers with the Iowa District Court for Dickinson County for
Jarrod to be appointed administrator of the estate and for
Saunders to serve as the estate's attorney.
March 5, Saunders submitted an inventory showing a total
gross estate of $1, 158, 852.36. That same day, Saunders
filed an application to be allowed a statutory fee of $23,
297.04, representing two percent of the value of the estate.
The court approved the $23, 297.04 fee that day, and Jarrod
wrote a check on the estate's account for $11, 648.50 to
Saunders also that very same day. Saunders deposited the
check in his business account, not his trust account.
September, Saunders recalculated the value of the estate and
determined it was $982, 013.36. Saunders emailed Jarrod a
revised calculation that he would be entitled to a total fee
of $19, 760.26, leaving an unpaid balance of $8111.74. He
asked Jarrod to "send a check at [his] first
convenience." Saunders did not, however, file an amended
raised some questions about the $8111.74 bill. On December
16, Saunders wrote, "[I]n an effort to get this matter
closed as soon as possible, I would agree to compromise my
fee to the sum of $7500.00 if paid before the end of the
year." Jarrod responded that he would pay before the end
of the year but wanted something in writing that Saunders
would handle some remaining work on the estate, specifically
"the splitting of the land, the . . . stock, and the
transfer of the time shares." On December 30, Jarrod
paid Saunders $7500.00 by check written on the estate's
days later, Saunders deposited the $7500 check in his
business account. However, the work on the estate was not
complete. In November 2016, Saunders filed an interlocutory
report stating that all work was complete except for the
change of title and execution of a ...