Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Turner

Citation918 N.W.2d 130
Decision Date14 September 2018
Docket NumberNo. 18-0352,18-0352
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Tara van Brederode and Wendell J. Harms, Des Moines, for complainant.

Alfredo Parrish of Parrish, Kruidenier, Dunn, Boles, Gribble, Gentry, Brown & Bergmann LLP, Des Moines (until withdrawal), and then Royce D. Turner, West Des Moines, pro se, for respondent.

WATERMAN, Justice.

Royce D. Turner, over a span of twenty months, was repeatedly rebuked by state and federal judges for missing hearings and violating court rules. He was found in contempt several times. Three of his clients were arrested and two were jailed for missing hearings he overlooked. Despite an ongoing audit, Turner continued to flout basic requirements for client trust accounts.

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a complaint against Turner alleging multiple violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. He delayed responding to the Board's inquiries and complaints. Our court imposed a five-month interim suspension to protect the public. We permitted Turner's return to practice with the help of an experienced attorney under stipulated limitations pending resolution of the disciplinary charges.

The parties submitted a stipulation of facts. A division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found violations of numerous rules. Noting Turner's inexperience and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

(ADHD), the commission recommended a three-month suspension of his license to practice law with conditions on his reinstatement. The Board recommends a suspension of twelve to eighteen months. Based on our de novo review, we now suspend Turner's license to practice law for one year from the date of this opinion with conditions on his reinstatement.

Inexperienced sole practitioners who lack mentors and take on cases without the requisite experience are at greater risk of making mistakes. Any Iowa lawyer should be concerned about receiving one rebuke from a judge. Attorneys should view a single mistake as a wake-up call to reexamine practices or get help to avoid further missteps. Continuing to make the same mistakes without correcting behavior invariably leads to more trouble, as shown here. According to the adage commonly attributed to Will Rogers, "good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment."1 We hope Turner gains better judgment from his bad experiences.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Turner obtained his Iowa law license in 2013 and began a solo practice in Polk County. He suffers from ADHD and depression. Turner receives treatment and takes medication for those conditions. This case arises from Turner's representation of many clients. We find the following facts as stipulated or otherwise established in the record and review them in the sequence alleged in the Board's second amended complaint.

A. Untimely Response to Complaint (Count I). On January 26, 2015, Turner received from the Board a complete copy of an ethics complaint filed by K.D. regarding Turner's relationship with W.B. After Turner failed to respond, the Board mailed him a second copy by certified mail that the postal service returned after Turner declined to retrieve it. On May 7, at Turner's request, the Board mailed Turner a third copy and extended his deadline to respond to May 29. Turner still did not respond by this extended deadline.

On July 23, the Board informed Turner by email that it would seek a suspension of his law license due to his failure to respond. The next day, the Board filed a certificate of noncompliance with this court stating that Turner failed to respond and asking the court to issue a notice of possible temporary suspension of Turner's license. Turner replied to the Board's email, stating he had not yet received a complete copy of the complaint. The Board sent Turner a fourth copy. Turner substantively responded to the complaint on July 28—six months after he first received it. Turner admits he knowingly failed to respond to the Board's lawful demand for information. He attributed his lack of responsiveness during this period to his ADHD and depression.

B. The Philip and Jackson Representations (Count II). In September 2014, Agok Philip retained Turner to represent him in four criminal cases in Polk County. Philip made seven payments to Turner totaling $1075, but Turner failed to deposit any of these sums in his client trust account. Turner stipulated that he was "not completely familiar with the trust account process" at that time. Turner initially filed appearances in only two of Philip's four cases, prompting judicial inquiries into his role in the other two. He belatedly filed one appearance only after repeated reminders by the court and even then without the requisite certificate of service.

Russell Jackson retained Turner to represent him in two criminal cases in Polk County scheduled for a plea hearing on December 10. Jackson made fourteen payments to Turner totaling $1880, but none were deposited into Turner's client trust account. On December 9, Turner filed motions to continue but did not bring these motions to the assigned judge's attention. Neither Jackson nor Turner appeared at the scheduled plea hearing the next day. The judge denied the motions to continue and issued warrants for Jackson's arrest.

The Polk County Sheriff arrested Jackson for failure to appear.

On March 9, 2015, Turner received the Board's complaint regarding his representations of Philip and Jackson. Turner failed to respond. On April 7, the Board sent Turner a second notice of the complaint by restricted certified mail. Turner failed to claim this letter. On June 2, the Board again served the complaint by certified mail, and Turner again failed to claim the letter. The Polk County Sheriff personally served Turner with the complaint on July 9. Turner claimed he had already responded to this complaint, and the Board replied that it had not received his response. The Board extended Turner's response deadline to July 21 at his request, but Turner missed the extended deadline. He substantively responded to this complaint only after the Board filed its certificate of noncompliance with this court on July 24, more than four months after first receiving it. Turner concedes he knowingly failed to respond to the Board's lawful demand for information.

C. Bankruptcy Cases (Count III). Turner admits he "was not as familiar as he should have been with bankruptcy cases." On May 5, 2014, he presented paper bankruptcy petitions for seven individuals, even though electronic filing in that forum has been mandatory since 2000. His subsequent rule violations and failure to attend hearings led to a number of rebukes, dismissals, and other sanctions, as follows.

Turner filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case for Steve Cummings. Turner reported that his fee was $875. The U.S. Trustee moved to dismiss the bankruptcy action and to order Turner to refund the fees. The court scheduled a hearing on these motions. Turner failed to attend the hearing, and the court granted both motions. A week later, Turner filed a second bankruptcy petition for Cummings that omitted the required listing of creditors, schedules, and statement of financial affairs. The U.S. Trustee moved for an order to show cause for Turner to "explain his failure to comply with the Order of this Court, the continued deficiencies with his filing[s] ..., his failure to appear at hearings and his overall practice before the Court." Following a hearing, the court ordered Turner to "supply the bankruptcy schedules bearing his clients' signatures" and to deliver "the original power of attorney documents that were executed involving any" of the clients identified in the order by the next day. The court extended by six days the deadline for Turner to refund the $875 fee to Cummings. Two days after the deadline for refunding Cummings's fee, Turner moved to vacate the refund order. The U.S. Trustee then filed a status report noting Turner's noncompliance.

Turner filed a separate Chapter 7 bankruptcy case for Laura Cummings without her required signatures, and the court scheduled a hearing after Turner failed to correct these omissions. Neither Turner nor Cummings attended the hearing, and the court dismissed the case. The court ordered Turner to attend training on the court's electronic filing system. Turner moved for relief from the order dismissing the case, stating he missed the hearing due to illness. The U.S. Trustee objected due to other problems in documents submitted by Turner. The court scheduled a hearing on the motion. Turner also filed a motion to reinstate the case. Neither Turner nor Cummings attended the hearing, and the court denied Turner's motions. Turner then filed a second bankruptcy case but omitted the filing fee or application to pay the fee in installments and omitted the requisite schedules, statement of financial affairs, credit counseling certificate, and listing of creditors. The bankruptcy trustee responded with a motion for order to show cause. The court scheduled a hearing, which Turner failed to attend. The court dismissed the second petition. A new lawyer took over Cummings's case.

Turner filed a Chapter 7 petition for Kelly Willard. The U.S. Trustee moved to compel the filing of additional and corrected documents and then moved to dismiss because Willard had not obtained the requisite credit counseling. Turner objected to the motion to dismiss, and the court scheduled a hearing. A day before the hearing, Turner filed a motion to withdraw Willard's petition. The court granted the motion to dismiss.

After filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases for Walter Anhorn and Lasandra Kearney, Turner filed reaffirmation agreements between his clients and several creditors. The U.S. Trustee objected to the reaffirmation agreements. Turner then moved to withdraw the agreements. The U.S. Trustee moved to dismiss...

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