appeal from the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance
attorney disciplinary action, grievance commission recommends
suspension for multiple violations of ethical rules.
F. Noyes, Fairfield, pro se.
van Brederode and Wendell J. Harms, Des Moines, for appellee.
Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board filed a
complaint against attorney Edward F. Noyes after an audit of
his client trust account (CTA) revealed potential violations
of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. A division of the
Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found Noyes violated
the rules in four respects and recommended this court suspend
Noyes's license to practice law in this state for sixty
days. We find and conclude Noyes violated the Iowa Rules of
Professional Conduct, but we disagree with the
commission's recommended suspension. We suspend
Noyes's license to practice law in Iowa for thirty days
from the filing date of this opinion.
review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo."
Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v.
Mathahs, 918 N.W.2d 487, 489 (Iowa 2018). "The
Board must prove ethical violations by a convincing
preponderance of the evidence." Id. A
convincing preponderance of the evidence lies between the
preponderance-of-the-evidence standard in a civil case and
the reasonable-doubt standard in a criminal case.
Id. "We may impose a greater or lesser sanction
than what the commission has recommended upon proof of an
ethical violation." Id.
of background, Noyes obtained his license to practice law in
Iowa in 1985. Since obtaining his license, Noyes has been
publicly reprimanded on four separate occasions (1998, 2012,
2014, and 2016) for violations of the rules of professional
conduct. The 2014 public reprimand arose out of Noyes's
failure to provide a client with a contemporaneous written
accounting of services performed in violation of Iowa Court
Rule 45.7(4). See Iowa Ct. R. 45.7(4) (stating a
lawyer must promptly provide a client a full written
accounting upon withdrawal of a fee or expense). The 2016
public reprimand arose out of Noyes's failure to
adequately supervise a nonlawyer intern in violation of Iowa
Rule of Professional Conduct 32:5.3. Like his most recent
reprimands, this disciplinary proceeding also involves
Noyes's failure to manage his CTA and supervise a
September 2015, an auditor for the Iowa Supreme Court Client
Security Commission audited Noyes's CTA. The audit showed
client funds in the CTA were $12, 898.03 lower than they
should have been. The causes of the deficiency were
threefold. First, four clients had negative trust account
balances in the total amount of $4162.70. Client Patrick
Gunderson had a negative balance of $3000 since July 9, 2015.
Gunderson's negative balance resulted from a series of
advances Noyes made to Gunderson. Client Craig Howard had a
negative trust account balance of $1102 since September 19,
2014. The negative balance in Howard's account resulted
from Noyes over disbursing $1102 from the account. Noyes
billed Howard for the amount of the over disbursement, but
Howard did not pay the bill. Client Steve Knipfer had a
negative balance of $55.35 since December 8, 2014. Client
Emilee Steinbach had a negative balance of $5.35 since
February 5, 2014. The last two negative client account
balances were the results of improperly accounted for checks.
Second, Noyes had not reimbursed the CTA for bank fees he
paid when he received client funds by credit card payment.
The accumulated credit card fees totaled $4900.88. Third,
Noyes could not identify the clients associated with several
CTA disbursements in the total amount of $3834.49.
five days of the audit results, Noyes reimbursed the CTA with
earned fees that were still in the CTA. No clients suffered
time of the audit, Noyes's firm used QuickBooks
accounting software. Noyes admitted he was "personally
responsible for the balancing of the trust account." He
admitted that he had "no experience in QuickBooks
software and relied upon [his] office manager" and a
consultant. The office manager was Pam Breeding. She was
responsible for the firm's accounting. The consultant was
Paul Saipher. Saipher was an accountant and Certified
Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Noyes hired Saipher to
provide support with the installation of the software and to
provide ongoing tech support, training, and consulting. Noyes
paid Saipher approximately $7000 per year in consulting fees.
the audit, Breeding revealed she did not fully understand how
to use QuickBooks but had been afraid to tell anyone at the
firm about her struggles with the program. Breeding admitted
that several of the problems discovered in the audit were a
result of her accounting mistakes and that she had not been
properly conducting the monthly reconciliations. Breeding
reported, "Other than working with Paul [Saipher] I had
no training in QuickBooks or accounting and [became] confused
easily when errors were made." Noyes does not deny that
Breeding may have stated this to the auditor.
Board filed the instant complaint against Noyes. The Board
alleged Noyes provided financial assistance to a client, in
violation of rule 32:1.8(e); commingled CTA and business
funds and failed to keep proper records of client funds, in
violation of rule 32:1.15(a); failed to follow Iowa Court
Rules, chapter 45, in violation of rule 32:1.15(f); and
failed to properly supervise staff, in violation of rule
32:5.3. The commission found the Board had proved the
violations by a convincing preponderance of the evidence.
commission recommended that Noyes's license be suspended
for sixty days. Aggravating factors included Noyes's
thirty-plus years of experience practicing law, his four
previous public reprimands, and the similarity between the
prior violations that resulted in public reprimands and the
violations in this case. Mitigating factors included
Noyes's cooperation during the disciplinary process, his
willingness to adjust his accounting processes to prevent
future mishandling of client funds, and the lack of client
matter was submitted to the commission on a stipulated
record. See id. r. 36.16(1). The stipulation to
facts "binds the parties, the grievance commission, and
the supreme court." Id. r. 36.16(2). We
"interpret the stipulation of facts with reference to
its subject matter and in light of the surrounding
circumstances and the whole record, including the state of
the pleadings, issues involved, and any additional evidence
elicited at a limited hearing." Id. The parties
did not stipulate to the violations or sanctions, but even if
they had, "[a] stipulation as to violations or sanctions
is not binding on the grievance commission or the supreme
court." Id. r. 36.16(3); see Iowa Supreme
Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Lubinus, 869 N.W.2d
546, 549 (Iowa 2015) ("Stipulations of fact are