review of the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
attorney disciplinary action, grievance commission recommends
suspension for multiple violations of ethical rules,
including theft from employer. LICENSE
van Brederode and Amanda K. Robinson, Des Moines, for
W. Den Beste, Cedar Rapids, pro se.
case is before us on review from a report and recommendation
of a division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission
concerning attorney Curtis W. Den Beste. The report found Den
Beste committed ethical violations and recommended a
four-month suspension of his license to practice law. We find
Den Beste violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct by
engaging in criminal conduct involving theft from his
employer. We suspend his license to practice law in Iowa
indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for four
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Den Beste is an Iowa attorney. He received his license to
practice law in 2000. In 2007, Den Beste received an offer
from Steve Howes to practice at the Howes Law Firm, P.C.
(Howes) in Linn County, Iowa. The misconduct giving rise to
this proceeding occurred while Den Beste worked at Howes.
Beste entered into a fee agreement with Howes requiring him
to deposit all earned client fees into a trust account or the
general law firm account. Pursuant to the agreement Den Beste
was then paid fifty percent of the fees he earned, and Howes
retained the remainder to cover overhead and other expenses.
Beginning in 2015, Den Beste accepted cash payments from some
clients and kept the proceeds for himself rather than deposit
them as required by the fee agreement.
Beste's pattern of misconduct was discovered in March
2017. He had instructed the firm's accounting manager to
"write off" a number of accounts he dishonestly
deemed "uncollectable." When the manager called the
clients in an attempt to collect payment, some informed her
that they had already paid Den Beste directly. Steve Howes
confronted him at a meeting shortly after the discovery. Den
Beste admitted to the theft and was terminated. He agreed to
self-report his misconduct to the disciplinary board and to
provide an accounting of the diverted funds as well as a
repayment plan. The accounting revealed he retained a total
of $18, 200. Accounting for the fifty-percent split, and
other tax and reimbursement considerations, respondent
wrongfully deprived Howes of $9200. A Client Security
Commission auditor investigated the issue and found no
evidence to conclude Den Beste's accounting was
inaccurate. He also noted respondent was cooperative and
provided him with all requested information. However, he also
explained Howes's record keeping did not provide a
"way to verify that the amount reported by Den Beste as
stolen is accurate."
Board Complaint and Commission Recommendations.
Den Beste reported his conduct to the Iowa Supreme Court
Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Board filed a complaint
alleging Den Beste violated Iowa Rules of Professional
Conduct 32:8.4(b) and (c). Den Beste and the Board filed a
joint stipulation of facts containing a recitation of events,
a discussion of the rule violations and sanctions,
accompanying exhibits, and a waiver of hearing. Following a
hearing, the commission found Den Beste violated rules
32:8.4(b) and (c), identifying his pattern of misconduct
involving "extensive or serious misrepresentations"
as an aggravating factor. It also noted Den Beste's
conduct constitutes theft in violation of Iowa Code section
714.2(2), although he was not charged criminally.
commission recognized a number of mitigating circumstances in
its report. These factors include Den Beste's
self-reporting of wrongdoing, his cooperation with the Board,
his voluntary plan to reimburse Howes, and the absence of a
prior disciplinary record. There is no indication his
indiscretions caused any financial harm to his clients.
Importantly, Steve Howes submitted a letter stating he was
the only person financially harmed by the theft. He gave
positive remarks regarding Den Beste's professional
abilities and character and asked for sanctions short of
revocation. The letter also mentioned Den Beste's
mentorship of young lawyers, his competency in legal matters,
and his personal contributions to the firm.
recommending a sanction, the commission observed instances in
prior disciplinary cases in which an attorney's theft
from a law firm involved additional serious wrongdoing. These
cases typically resulted in license revocation. By contrast,
cases absent of these egregious aggravating factors resulted
in more lenient sanctions. Finding no aggravating factors
warranting revocation in this case, the commission
recommended a four-month license suspension as the
Scope of Review.
review of attorney disciplinary proceedings is de novo.
Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v.
Dolezal, 796 N.W.2d 910, 913 (Iowa 2011). Although we
give respectful consideration to the findings and
recommendations by the commission, we are not bound by them.
Id. The Board must prove the misconduct by a
convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id.
32:8.4(b) states that "[i]t is professional misconduct
for a lawyer to . . . commit a criminal act that reflects
adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or
fitness as a lawyer in other respects." Iowa R.
Prof'l Conduct 32:8.4(b). The parties stipulated that the
factual basis for this rule violation is Den Beste's own
admission that "he took approximately $9, 200.00 in fees
that rightly belonged to his employer law firm for his
personal use, which is conduct that constitutes theft."
We have stated that "[a] lawyer who commits a theft of
funds engages in conduct involving moral turpitude,
dishonesty, and conduct that adversely reflects on the
lawyer's fitness to practice law." Iowa Supreme
Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Stowe, 830 N.W.2d 737,
741 (Iowa 2013). Iowa Code section 714.1(2) defines theft as
the misappropriation of another's property in a manner
inconsistent with the owner's right in the property or
appropriation of such property for personal use. Iowa Code
§ 714.1(2) (2017).
Beste committed theft by retaining funds in a manner
inconsistent with Howes's right to payment for his own
benefit. See In re Disciplinary Proceeding Against
Placide, 414 P.3d 1124, 1126, 1136 (Wash. 2018)
(concluding attorney committed theft based on conduct similar
to the conduct in this case under a statute similar to
Iowa's theft statute). Despite his acquiescence to the
fee agreement, he failed to deposit client fees into the
firm's general account. His failure to do so prevented
Howes from receiving its share of the funds. We find ...