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Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board Complainant v. Nine

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 7, 2018

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
MELISSA NINE, Respondent.

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

         Grievance commission recommends the suspension of an attorney's license for thirty days for a violation of ethical rules. LICENSE SUSPENDED.

          Tara van Brederode and Elizabeth E. Quinlan, for complainant.

          David L. Brown of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for respondent.

          CHRISTENSEN, JUSTICE.

         An Iowa attorney engaged in an intimate relationship with one of her clients whom she was representing in a marriage dissolution matter. The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board charged the attorney with a violation of Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.8(j) (sexual relationship with a client). Though the attorney initially expressed her disbelief at the charge when the Board sent her a notice letter requiring her to respond to the alleged misconduct, she admitted her wrongdoing soon thereafter and fully cooperated with the Board.

         The parties reached a factual stipulation, agreeing that the charged violation occurred. The grievance commission considered the matter without a hearing and concluded the attorney violated rule 32:1.8(j). The commission recommended the attorney's license be suspended for thirty days. Upon our de novo review, we conclude that the attorney violated rule 32:1.8(j). We agree with the commission's recommended sanction and suspend the attorney's license to practice law for thirty days.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Melissa Nine is a solo practitioner in Marshalltown who was admitted to the Iowa bar in 2001. In April 2011, John Doe retained Nine to represent him in a marriage dissolution matter, which continued until August 22, 2012. While the dissolution matter was still pending in August 2011, Nine and Doe began an intimate relationship. Doe and Nine were not married to each other at the time of the intimate relationship.

         It is unclear when exactly the intimate relationship between Doe and Nine ended. However, on March 1, 2016, the Board sent Nine a notice letter requiring her response to the allegation of sexual misconduct regarding her intimate relationship with Doe. On April 4, Nine requested a complete copy of the Board's file and noted, "I am appalled at these allegations, to say the least." On April 19, Nine provided her initial response to the Board. She admitted engaging in an intimate relationship with Doe but claimed the relationship occurred "at the appropriate time."

         After the Board commenced an investigation into the matter, Nine admitted that she had an intimate relationship with Doe in August 2011 that she later ended. Nine subsequently cooperated fully with the Board and commission. The investigation revealed that Doe did not suffer any financial harm because of the intimate relationship, nor did he claim any emotional or mental harm.

         On April 11, 2018, the Board filed a complaint against Nine alleging that she had engaged in sexual relations with a client in violation of Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.8(j) and made a false statement of material fact in connection with a disciplinary matter in violation of rule 32:8.1. Nine filed her answer on May 9, admitting all of the allegations except the alleged violation of rule 32:8.1. On June 8, the Board filed an amended complaint, which removed the alleged violation of rule 32:8.1. Nine filed a written consent to the amended complaint on June 8.

         On June 28, the Board and Nine submitted a joint stipulation pursuant to Iowa Court Rule 36.16, waiving the formal hearing. The parties agreed that Nine violated rule 32:1.8(j). The matter was submitted to the commission for its consideration on July 17. The commission issued its findings and recommendation on September 10, in which it found the violation of rule 32:1.8(j) was factually supported. The commission recommended that we suspend Nine's license for thirty days.

         II. ...


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