Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor, No. 16–0130.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWIGGINS, Justice.
Citation887 N.W.2d 369
Parties IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant, v. Karen A. TAYLOR, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 16–0130.
Decision Date10 November 2016

887 N.W.2d 369

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
Karen A. TAYLOR, Respondent.

No. 16–0130.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Nov. 10, 2016.


887 N.W.2d 372

Tara van Brederode and Susan Wendel, Des Moines, for complainant.

David L. Brown and Alexander E. Wonio of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for respondent.

WIGGINS, Justice.

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a complaint against the respondent, Karen A. Taylor, alleging she committed misconduct and violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers by failing to file her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2003 through 2013. Based on the facts stipulated to by the parties, a division of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa

887 N.W.2d 373

concluded Taylor's conduct violated rules 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended she be suspended for no more than thirty days.

On our de novo review, we conclude the Board established by a convincing preponderance of the evidence that Taylor violated rules 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and disciplinary rules 1–102(A)(3), 1–102(A)(4), and 1–102(A)(6) of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers. Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude the appropriate sanction is a suspension of Taylor's license to practice law for a minimum of six months.

I. Scope of Review.

We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Haskovec, 869 N.W.2d 554, 557 (Iowa 2015). The Board has the burden to prove an attorney violated a rule of professional conduct by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Crum, 861 N.W.2d 595, 599 (Iowa 2015). “A convincing preponderance of the evidence is more than a preponderance of the evidence, but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Haskovec, 869 N.W.2d at 557 (quoting Crum, 861 N.W.2d at 599 ). Thus, the burden on the Board is higher than the burden of proof that applies in most civil cases, but less than the burden that applies in cases requiring a party to establish a proposition by clear and convincing evidence. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Hedgecoth, 862 N.W.2d 354, 360 (Iowa 2015). Although we give respectful consideration to the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the grievance commission in attorney disciplinary proceedings, they do not bind us. Haskovec, 869 N.W.2d at 557 ; Crum, 861 N.W.2d at 599 ; Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Thomas, 844 N.W.2d 111, 113 (Iowa 2014).

When an attorney admits facts alleged by the Board in an answer to a complaint, we deem those facts to be established. Haskovec, 869 N.W.2d at 557. Furthermore, when the parties in an attorney disciplinary proceeding stipulate to facts, those factual stipulations are binding on the parties. Id. We interpret factual stipulations in light of the surrounding circumstances, the record as a whole, the subject matter they address, and the issues involved. Id.

When an attorney stipulates to having violated a rule contained in the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct, however, that stipulation is not binding on this court. Id. at 557, 562. Rather, we will find the attorney violated the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct only if the record reveals a factual basis for concluding a violation of the rules occurred. Id.

II. Prior Proceedings.

On June 30, 2015, the Board filed a formal complaint against Taylor alleging she violated rules 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct by willfully failing to file her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2002 through 2007. After Taylor responded to the complaint and provided copies of her tax returns to the Board, the Board filed an amended complaint alleging she violated rules 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct by willfully failing to file her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2003 through 2013. The Board subsequently filed a second amended complaint alleging Taylor violated disciplinary rules 1–102(A)(3), 1–102(A)(4), and 1–102(A)(6) of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers by failing to file her federal and

887 N.W.2d 374

state income tax returns for tax years 2003 and 2004 and violated rules 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct by failing to file her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2005 through 2013. In her answer, Taylor admitted every factual allegation the Board made in the second amended complaint.

Thereafter, the parties filed a joint stipulation, which they subsequently amended.See Iowa Court Rule 36.16. In the final joint stipulation, the parties stipulated to the relevant facts and agreed that Taylor's failure to file her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2003 through 2013 violated rules 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c) of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct.1 The final joint stipulation also contained a statement setting forth aggravating and mitigating factors that might influence a determination of the appropriate sanction under the circumstances. The parties agreed to submit the case for determination on the issue of whether any violations occurred based on the final joint stipulation and to brief only the issue of the appropriate sanction.

After the parties submitted briefs on the question of the appropriate sanction, a division of the grievance commission held a hearing to determine what sanction it would recommend to this court. By the date of the hearing, Taylor had already filed her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2003 through 2013.

During the hearing, Taylor testified regarding her work and personal history, the circumstances that led to her failure to file her federal and state income tax returns, and the recent efforts she had made to address her outstanding tax liabilities with federal and state authorities. Taylor also expressed remorse for her actions, acknowledged her conduct violated her ethical obligations, and accepted responsibility for her actions without attempting to offer excuses or shift blame to others.

The grievance commission subsequently issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations with respect to the appropriate sanction. The commission concluded Taylor's failure to file her federal and state income tax returns for tax years 2003 through 2013 violated Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct 32:8.4(b) and 32:8.4(c). After considering the facts and circumstances and a number of aggravating and mitigating factors, the commission recommended we suspend Taylor's license to practice law in the state for no more than thirty days. The Board opposed the commission's recommendation, arguing an eighteen-month suspension is a more appropriate sanction.

III. Findings of Fact.

Based on the joint stipulation of the parties and our review of the record, we make the following findings of fact. Taylor graduated from Drake Law School in 1992, and we admitted her to the Iowa bar in 1995. Taylor opened a law practice with a partner in 1998, and she has maintained a solo practice in Des Moines since 2000. Taylor currently employs a full-time legal assistant, a part-time bookkeeper, and a part-time receptionist. Additionally, Taylor usually employs an associate attorney, though she did not employ an associate at the time of the hearing before the Board.

Taylor practices primarily family law, assisting clients with divorces and child custody matters as well as protective orders

887 N.W.2d 375

in cases involving domestic violence. Additionally, Taylor represents individuals facing criminal prosecutions and bankruptcy proceedings. Taylor regularly accepts court appointments to represent indigent defendants in criminal matters, and most of her clients facing criminal prosecution are indigent. Taylor makes court appearances nearly every weekday, takes work home nearly every night, and frequently works every day of the week. The clients Taylor assists are located throughout central Iowa, and she regularly appears before the courts in Hardin, Boone, Story, Dallas, Polk, Madison, Warren, Ringgold, and Decatur counties.

Taylor has a significant client base for a sole practitioner and currently has approximately two hundred clients with ongoing matters. Many of Taylor's clients are individuals of modest means, and she charges an affordable hourly rate to ensure their access to legal representation. Taylor performs substantial pro bono legal work on a regular basis and has done so throughout her career. In addition, Taylor regularly permits her low-income clients to pay for her services on a payment plan without interest. For example, one of her clients has been paying her ten dollars per month for approximately eighteen years. Because Taylor does not demand prompt payment for her services from clients who would otherwise have difficulty affording them, she has a significant accounts receivable...

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8 practice notes
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Morse, No. 15–1502.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 10, 2016
    ...been disproportionately lower than sanctions for other actions. For example, in Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor, 887 N.W.2d 369, 383 (Iowa 2016), we suspended the license of an attorney for six months when she failed to file her tax returns for ten years. Incredibly, ......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Jacobsma, No. 18-1267
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 7, 2018
    ...by the Board in an answer to a complaint, we deem those facts to be established." Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor , 887 N.W.2d 369, 373 (Iowa 2016). Similarly, when an attorney makes and the commission accepts a stipulation of facts, that stipulation is binding on us. Iowa......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Hamer, No. 17-1599
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 29, 2018
    ...to mitigating factors, Hamer does have an impressive record of community service. See Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor , 887 N.W.2d 369, 382 (Iowa 2016). Additionally, Hamer has never had any prior disciplinary action taken against him. Bartley , 860 N.W.2d at 339.There are......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Arzberger, No. 15–2109.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 10, 2016
    ...(Iowa 1999).We note that the element of misrepresentation is present in Arzberger's conduct here, not only in her misrepresentations to 887 N.W.2d 369the commission, but in her misrepresentations to her client regarding both ordinary and the extraordinary probate fees. Yet, there are mitiga......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Morse, No. 15–1502.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 10, 2016
    ...been disproportionately lower than sanctions for other actions. For example, in Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor, 887 N.W.2d 369, 383 (Iowa 2016), we suspended the license of an attorney for six months when she failed to file her tax returns for ten years. Incredibly, ......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Jacobsma, No. 18-1267
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 7, 2018
    ...by the Board in an answer to a complaint, we deem those facts to be established." Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor , 887 N.W.2d 369, 373 (Iowa 2016). Similarly, when an attorney makes and the commission accepts a stipulation of facts, that stipulation is binding on us. Iowa......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Hamer, No. 17-1599
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 29, 2018
    ...to mitigating factors, Hamer does have an impressive record of community service. See Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Taylor , 887 N.W.2d 369, 382 (Iowa 2016). Additionally, Hamer has never had any prior disciplinary action taken against him. Bartley , 860 N.W.2d at 339.There are......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Arzberger, No. 15–2109.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 10, 2016
    ...(Iowa 1999).We note that the element of misrepresentation is present in Arzberger's conduct here, not only in her misrepresentations to 887 N.W.2d 369the commission, but in her misrepresentations to her client regarding both ordinary and the extraordinary probate fees. Yet, there are mitiga......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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