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Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board Complainant v. Earley

Supreme Court of Iowa

September 6, 2019

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
KYLE L. EARLEY, Respondent.

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

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

          Tara van Brederode and Crystal W. Rink, Des Moines, for complainant.

          Kyle L. Earley, Grinnell, pro se.

          MANSFIELD, JUSTICE.

         A newly admitted Iowa attorney received retainers to handle family law matters, did essentially no work on those matters, and used the funds instead for personal purposes. The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board sought revocation of the attorney's license, and the attorney did not contest revocation or argue he had a colorable future claim to the funds when he converted them. A division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission held a hearing and concluded that most of the alleged ethical violations had occurred and that revocation was the proper sanction. On our review, we agree with the commission and therefore revoke the attorney's license to practice law.

         I. Facts and Procedural History.

         Kyle Earley graduated from law school in 2017 and was admitted to the Iowa bar that same year. At relevant times, he maintained a solo private practice in Grinnell. This disciplinary proceeding concerns Earley's representation of two different clients.

         A. Ryan Patterson Matter.

         In 2018, Earley began representing Ryan Patterson in a dissolution of marriage action. Patterson agreed to pay Earley $250 per hour with a cap of $1500. Patterson also agreed to pay $300 for anticipated expenses. On April 27, Patterson's mother gave Earley a check in the amount of $1800 for the representation. Earley deposited this check into his client trust account the same day. Thereafter, Earley drafted a petition for dissolution that he did not file. He performed no other work on the case.

         Between March 14 and July 25, Earley moved $5910 from his client trust account into his business checking account. He also moved $2590 from his client trust account into his personal checking account. By July 31, these account transfers left $2 remaining in Earley's client trust account. The unearned portion of the funds received for the Patterson dissolution matter were among those transfers. Earley did not notify Patterson of the time, amount, or purpose of the withdrawals or furnish an accounting.

         On June 12, in a responsive letter to the Office of Professional Regulation, Earley self-reported his conversion of client funds:

The main purpose of this letter . . . is to self-report multiple ethics violations regarding my trust account management. I'm not sure where to start, so I will start at the beginning.

         Earley went on to describe a variety of challenges he faced as he began his legal career as a solo practitioner. He explained that due to financial strain, he took on cases that were beyond his realm of expertise. He began experiencing depression and anxiety. Earley described his ongoing resentment toward his father. He noted that his father, an attorney, had committed ethical violations of his own before ultimately being disbarred. Earley continued,

With respect to my violations, I don't have the specifics at the moment. I just know that I've taken money from my trust account before I earned it, multiple times. If I were to estimate, I would say at least 5 times. I will fully cooperate with your Office however. I will release my trust account records and give you my compensation agreement records.
I am deeply sorry for my actions. I am ashamed and embarrassed. I am completely lost at the moment. I honestly don't know what I want, or how I want this situation to play out. But I know that I'm not in a good place, mentally right now. And that I need help. So, I'm asking for help.

         On August 7, Earley sent a letter to Patterson admitting he had taken Patterson's $1800 without earning the funds:

I apologize for taking so long to respond to you. The truth is that I've been avoiding this conversation because I am ashamed of my actions.
There's really no easy way to say this, so I'll just say it. I no longer have your $1800, nor can I represent you in your divorce case.
For what it's worth, I am GENUINELY sorry for my actions. Eventually, I will make this right. You have my word as a man. But I realize that doesn't really mean much at this point in time.
I figure that I at least owe you an explanation. So, here it is.
Several months ago I began to experience crippling anxiety, which coincided with mounting financial difficulties. I attempted to get treatment, but nothing helped. I have since made the decision to quit the ...

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