Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, No. 12–1024.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtWATERMAN
Citation827 N.W.2d 169
PartiesIOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Appellee, v. Richard Scott RHINEHART, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 12–1024.
Decision Date15 February 2013

827 N.W.2d 169

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Appellee,
v.
Richard Scott RHINEHART, Appellant.

No. 12–1024.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Feb. 15, 2013.


[827 N.W.2d 171]


Leon F. Spies of Mellon & Spies, Iowa City, for appellant.

Charles L. Harrington, Des Moines, and Margaret E. Johnson, Sidney, for appellee.


WATERMAN, Justice.

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board) brought a two-count complaint against Richard Scott Rhinehart alleging he violated nine rules of professional conduct. The first count arose from the district court's ruling, affirmed on appeal, that Rhinehart had committed extrinsic fraud responding to his wife's discovery in his own protracted marital dissolution proceeding. The second count involved Rhinehart's billing dispute with his clients in a residential construction defect case. The grievance commission applied issue preclusion to count one and found Rhinehart had violated all six rules charged by the Board. The commission based on a stipulated record also found Rhinehart violated three rules as charged in count two. The commission recommended we suspend Rhinehart's license to practice law for sixty days.

On our de novo review, we apply issue preclusion based on the district court's adjudication that Rhinehart committed extrinsic fraud and conclude he violated two of the rules charged in count one. We hold the four other rules at issue in count one apply only to a lawyer acting as an advocate for a client and thus were inapplicable to Rhinehart as a party in his own divorce proceeding. As to count two, we hold Rhinehart violated two of the three rules charged by the Board. We suspend Rhinehart's license to practice law for sixty days.

I. Scope of Review.

Our review of attorney disciplinary proceedings is de novo. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Stowers, 823 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Iowa 2012). While we give the commission's findings respectful consideration, we are not bound by them. Id. The Board has the burden to prove attorney misconduct by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id. We may increase or decrease the sanction recommended by the commission. Id.

[827 N.W.2d 172]

II. Prior Proceedings and Factual Background.

The Board's two-count complaint against Rhinehart arose from his actions in two matters, which we discuss separately.

A. Rhinehart's Dissolution Proceeding. The first count of the Board's complaint involves Rhinehart's failure to disclose two contingent-fee cases in his own dissolution proceeding. In January 2003, Rhinehart's now ex-wife, Deborah Rhinehart, filed an action in Woodbury County for dissolution of their marriage. Their case went to trial on September 11 and 12. At the request of the parties, the district court entered a decree dissolving their marriage on December 29. A supplemental decree addressing the remaining issues was entered by the court on March 18, 2004. Both parties appealed, and our court affirmed the decree on further review.

In December 2005, Deborah filed a petition to correct, vacate, or modify the 2004 decree. Deborah's petition alleged Rhinehart had committed extrinsic fraud by failing to disclose in discovery two pending contingent-fee cases. A key contested issue in the dissolution proceeding had been the value of Rhinehart's law practice and the income generated from his practice. Deborah alleged Rhinehart's failure to disclose the two cases affected the court's ability to issue a fair and equitable division of their marital property because those cases were not taken into account by the court or the parties' experts in valuing Rhinehart's law practice.

The cases Rhinehart failed to disclose involved two clients, A.G. and J.G., siblings who were seeking compensation from Father George McFadden and his employer, the Diocese of Sioux City. Rhinehart first met with A.G. and J.G. to discuss their claims in July 2002, while Rhinehart and Deborah were still married. A.G. and J.G. alleged they had been sexually abused by Father McFadden in their childhood. Given the sensitive nature of their claims, Rhinehart contends he assured A.G. and J.G. that he would keep their information confidential. During this first meeting, A.G. and J.G. equivocated whether they wanted to sue Father McFadden and the diocese. Rhinehart had only limited contact with A.G. and J.G. the rest of that year and the only work he did for them was to correspond with counsel for the Sioux City diocese regarding the process for bringing a priest sex abuse claim.

As part of his law firm's year-end bookkeeping in 2002, Rhinehart sent A.G. and J.G. a letter to determine whether his firm should close their file. Rhinehart's letter was prompted by a message from A.G. and J.G. indicating that they no longer wished to pursue their claims. Rhinehart encouraged them to reconsider their decision because, in Omaha, similar “claims are now being responded to fairly promptly with reasonable monetary compensation.” This letter was sent the month before Deborah filed for divorce.

A.G. and J.G. met with Rhinehart again on January 20, 2003, the same month Deborah filed for divorce. It was at this meeting that Rhinehart and A.G. and J.G. executed the contingent-fee agreements Rhinehart later failed to disclose. Following this meeting, Rhinehart wrote demand letters on behalf of A.G. and J.G. and arranged a meeting between them and the bishop to discuss their claims.

Rhinehart was deposed in his dissolution proceeding on June 30. He was asked to bring certain information regarding his law practice with him to the deposition, including “a list of all plaintiffs, workers' comp, personal injury, and contingent-fee cases of every kind that are currently open at his firm.” Deborah's attorney sought

[827 N.W.2d 173]

these records for the purpose of valuing Rhinehart's law practice. The parties agreed to maintain the confidentiality of that information. Rhinehart nevertheless failed to include A.G. and J.G.'s cases in the list of contingent-fee cases he provided to Deborah's attorney. Rhinehart also failed to disclose them in his deposition testimony and did not tell his own attorney about the cases.

In July 2003, shortly after his deposition, Rhinehart met again with A.G. and J.G. On July 16, Rhinehart wrote a letter to the diocese's attorney stating, in part: “[A.G. and J.G.] are prepared to take action and have agreed to file a lawsuit naming Father McFadden and the diocese of Sioux City as defendants.” The letter enclosed a draft petition and made a settlement demand of $700,000, or $350,000 for each client. Rhinehart exchanged further correspondence regarding settlement before filing A.G. and J.G.'s lawsuit on August 27.

Rhinehart never supplemented his discovery responses to disclose these cases. Rhinehart also failed to disclose these cases during his testimony at the dissolution trial held the following month. Rather, while defending his position that his wife should bear her own attorney fees in the dissolution, Rhinehart testified at trial as follows: “Since I have laid all the cards on the table, haven't hidden any assets or money, I don't think it is fair [to have to pay hers].” Rhinehart also testified that he had “been forthright to the best of [his] ability about all of the assets and debts that [he has].” Counsel for Rhinehart and for Deborah and their experts opining on the value of his law practice remained unaware of the priest sex abuse litigation. The district court entered its decree valuing the law practice and dividing the marital property without taking into account these contingent-fee cases. Twenty months later, Deborah filed her action to correct, vacate, or modify the property division after she learned Rhinehart had concealed these contingent-fee cases.

The district court conducted a three-day bench trial on Deborah's action to reopen her dissolution decree. The district court entered a fifty-nine-page ruling on October 24, 2008. In this ruling, the district court found Rhinehart had committed extrinsic fraud as follows:

Deb has met her burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that [Rhinehart] committed extrinsic fraud when he failed to disclose his representation of [J.G. and A.G.] as clients with claims against Father McFadden and the Sioux City Diocese at the time his discovery deposition was taken on June 30, 2003, and further when he failed to supplement his discovery responses to disclose that he had filed lawsuits on their behalf prior to or during the underlying dissolution trial held on September 11, 2003. [Rhinehart] committed this fraud, not through his false testimony during his discovery deposition, but rather through his deliberate concealment of [these] cases beginning with his discovery deposition, and continuing through the underlying trial in this case.

The district court also noted in its ruling that Rhinehart “has demonstrated a lack of credibility, and also a willingness to say whatever he thinks will benefit him throughout the course of the present proceedings.”


The district court denied Rhinehart's motion to reconsider or enlarge its findings. Rhinehart appealed, and we transferred his appeal to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's ruling on extrinsic fraud. We denied Rhinehart's application for further review.

[827 N.W.2d 174]

On remand, Rhinehart presented new evidence in an attempt to rebut the district court's finding of fraud, including an affidavit and testimony from his daughter alleging that Deborah was aware of the two contingent-fee cases during the pendency of the divorce proceedings. The district court refused to reconsider its ruling that Rhinehart committed extrinsic fraud:

Even if this court considered this “new” evidence from Scott, however, the court finds no reason to set aside the original trial court's findings and conclusions, or those of the Court of Appeals on review, regarding Scott's extrinsic fraud.... Deborah was aware that Scott considered...

To continue reading

Request your trial
45 practice notes
  • In re Charges of Judicial Misconduct, Nos. DC–13–90021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 12, 2014
    ...of Lawyer Conduct R. 10.14(b). Iowa employs a “convincing preponderance” standard. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 171 (Iowa 2013). And South Dakota's standard is a “clear and undoubted preponderance” of the evidence. See In re Discipline of Stanton, 4......
  • In re Misconduct, Nos. DC–13–90021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 12, 2014
    ...of Lawyer Conduct R. 10.14(b). Iowa employs a “convincing preponderance” standard. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 171 (Iowa 2013). And South Dakota's standard is a “clear and undoubted preponderance” of the evidence. See In re Discipline of Stanton, 4......
  • In re Misconduct, Nos. DC–13–90021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 12, 2014
    ...of Lawyer Conduct R. 10.14(b). Iowa employs a “convincing preponderance” standard. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 171 (Iowa 2013). And South Dakota's standard is a “clear and undoubted preponderance” of the evidence. See In re Discipline of Stanton, 4......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Morse, No. 15–1502.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 10, 2016
    ...should suggest means for prompt resolution of the dispute, such as arbitration.’ ” Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 181–82 (Iowa 2013) (quoting Iowa R. Prof'l Conduct 32:1.15 cmt. 3). Morse and his clients disagreed over disposition of the $1400 intended......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • In re Charges of Judicial Misconduct, Nos. DC–13–90021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 12, 2014
    ...of Lawyer Conduct R. 10.14(b). Iowa employs a “convincing preponderance” standard. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 171 (Iowa 2013). And South Dakota's standard is a “clear and undoubted preponderance” of the evidence. See In re Discipline of Stanton, 4......
  • In re Misconduct, Nos. DC–13–90021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 12, 2014
    ...of Lawyer Conduct R. 10.14(b). Iowa employs a “convincing preponderance” standard. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 171 (Iowa 2013). And South Dakota's standard is a “clear and undoubted preponderance” of the evidence. See In re Discipline of Stanton, 4......
  • In re Misconduct, Nos. DC–13–90021
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 12, 2014
    ...of Lawyer Conduct R. 10.14(b). Iowa employs a “convincing preponderance” standard. See Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 171 (Iowa 2013). And South Dakota's standard is a “clear and undoubted preponderance” of the evidence. See In re Discipline of Stanton, 4......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Morse, No. 15–1502.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 10, 2016
    ...should suggest means for prompt resolution of the dispute, such as arbitration.’ ” Iowa Supreme Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Rhinehart, 827 N.W.2d 169, 181–82 (Iowa 2013) (quoting Iowa R. Prof'l Conduct 32:1.15 cmt. 3). Morse and his clients disagreed over disposition of the $1400 intended......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT