Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Beauvais, No. 20-0298

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtMcDERMOTT, Justice.
Citation948 N.W.2d 505
Parties IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant, v. John P. BEAUVAIS Jr., Respondent.
Decision Date04 September 2020
Docket NumberNo. 20-0298

948 N.W.2d 505

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
John P. BEAUVAIS Jr., Respondent.

No. 20-0298

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Submitted July 14, 2020
Filed September 4, 2020


Tara van Brederode and Crystal W. Rink, Des Moines, for complainant.

John P. Beauvais Jr., Sioux City, pro se.

McDERMOTT, Justice.

With trial looming and a discovery sanctions motion pending, a woefully underprepared lawyer told opposing counsel and the court that his client had accepted the opponent's $15,000 settlement offer. But the client had forcefully rejected that offer, saying she'd rather get nothing. The lawyer then pressured the client into accepting the $15,000 settlement using false information.

This case is a cautionary tale to the unprepared lawyer to avoid attempts to whitewash one's poor performance by pressuring a client to settle to end the case. Here, the settlement ended the lawsuit but triggered this attorney disciplinary matter.

A division of our grievance commission heard the evidence and concluded the lawyer committed multiple violations of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended a three-month suspension of the lawyer's license. Upon our review, we find all the same violations of our ethics rules and impose the recommended three-month suspension.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

John Beauvais Jr. graduated from law school in 2013 and was admitted to practice law in Iowa that same year. He started his legal career as an associate with a Sioux City law firm, but after a couple years (in March 2016), he left to start a solo practice.

In September 2014, while still at his prior firm, Beauvais filed a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of Sharel Banks and her minor child against the owner and manager of a rental property where Banks and the child previously lived. The lawsuit sought damages for the child's exposure to

948 N.W.2d 510

lead paint while residing at the rental property.

Beauvais gave a phoned-in performance as Banks's advocate in the litigation. He had to file a motion to extend time for service because he failed to serve one of the defendants within the required time period. On November 23—shortly after Beauvais had served the lawsuit on both defendants—the defendants’ counsel asked Beauvais to provide a settlement demand. Beauvais failed to provide one. On January 7, 2015, defendants’ counsel made the request again. Beauvais again failed to provide one. On February 5, and again on February 26, defendants’ counsel made requests for a settlement demand. Beauvais failed to respond each time.

On March 9, the defendants served discovery requests. Beauvais didn't contact Banks to discuss these requests or provide her a copy of them. He never served any discovery requests on behalf of his clients at any point. He also never requested or took depositions of the defendants or any other witnesses.

On March 9, Beauvais did file an expert witness designation on his clients’ behalf, identifying Heather Christiansen as an expert. The problem: Christiansen and Beauvais had never communicated about the matter. Beauvais didn't know what opinions, if any, she would offer in the case. On March 14, opposing counsel requested Christiansen's expert report. Beauvais didn't respond.

On March 18, Beauvais notified the court that he'd left his law firm and started his solo practice. But he didn't notify Banks, who learned Beauvais left when she later tried to contact Beauvais at his prior firm to get an update on her case.

Defendants’ counsel sent Beauvais a letter on April 14, again requesting Christiansen's expert report, and another letter on April 25, requesting the overdue discovery responses. Beauvais never responded to either letter. On May 10, defendants’ counsel left Beauvais a phone message. Beauvais didn't return it.

On May 11, defendants’ counsel filed a motion to compel the overdue discovery responses. The district court set a hearing for May 25. Beauvais didn't file a resistance to the motion and didn't appear for the hearing. The district court granted the motion to compel and gave Beauvais fifteen days to provide responses. Beauvais didn't provide responses by the deadline but did provide responses several days after the deadline. Defendants’ counsel later filed motions to compel and for sanctions alleging deficiencies in the discovery responses.

On June 8, Beauvais filed a designation of rebuttal expert witnesses identifying Brett Kuhn and Cynthia Ellis as rebuttal experts. But these designations had the same problem as the prior one: Beauvais hadn't communicated with Kuhn or Ellis and thus didn't know what opinions, if any, they might offer in the case.

On June 23, defendants’ counsel once again asked for a settlement demand from Beauvais to resolve the case. Beauvais once again didn't respond to opposing counsel. Beauvais never informed Banks of the defendants’ repeated requests for a settlement demand throughout the case.

Meanwhile, defendants’ counsel requested from Beauvais open dates for depositions in the case. Beauvais didn't respond, so defendants’ counsel unilaterally scheduled depositions, including the deposition of Banks. After Banks's deposition, defendants’ counsel twice requested a lead paint pamphlet that Banks referenced in her testimony. Beauvais never contacted Banks asking for the pamphlet and never responded to opposing counsel's request.

On August 8—the day before the scheduled hearing on defendants’ motions to

948 N.W.2d 511

compel and for sanctions, one month before the September 6 jury trial date, and more than eight months after defendants first requested it—Beauvais finally sent a settlement demand to defendants’ counsel. The amount demanded: $356,000.

The next day, Banks asked Beauvais for a copy of the settlement demand letter and an update on the case. Beauvais responded but didn't provide the email containing the settlement demand. He also didn't mention the impending hearing on the motions to compel and for sanctions, or the need to supplement the discovery responses. Defendants’ counsel made two more requests for the lead paint pamphlet, again without action by Beauvais. When Beauvais later informed Banks about the hearing on the motions, he misrepresented to her that its scheduling was "very much a last minute thing."

On August 23, defendants’ counsel presented Beauvais with a settlement offer of $10,000. Beauvais never communicated the offer to Banks. The next day, Beauvais filed a motion to continue the September 6 trial date. The defendants resisted the motion.

On August 30, the defendants also filed a motion in limine seeking to prevent the plaintiffs from presenting testimony about damages based on the failure to respond adequately to the defendants’ damages interrogatory. The motion in limine also sought to prevent the plaintiffs’ designated experts from testifying about causation and to prevent testimony from a potential as-yet undesignated medical expert who'd not yet been disclosed. (The same day, well beyond the expert deadline, Beauvais filed a supplemental expert designation listing a new doctor as an expert.) Beauvais failed to file any trial witness or exhibit lists, or any proposed jury instructions, seven days before the trial as required.

On August 31, the district court held a telephonic hearing on Beauvais's motion to continue the trial and on the defendants’ various motions. The district court granted the motion to continue the trial but noted the plaintiffs’ failures to disclose damages, experts, or any witnesses on causation. In its order the court said the "entire cause" for the case not being ready for trial was "Beauvais's inexperience and unfamiliarity with the rules." Beauvais never provided this court order to Banks.

The next day, on September 1, the defendants made a $15,000 settlement offer. This time Beauvais promptly emailed Banks about it, telling her, "I strongly advise you to accept this offer." But Banks firmly rejected the offer, emailing Beauvais that she'd "rather get NOTHING." Beauvais continued to urge Banks to accept the $15,000 settlement offer and told her the court was likely to dismiss her lawsuit if she didn't settle it. Banks reiterated to Beauvais that she had no interest in settling for $15,000.

Notwithstanding Bank's decision, on September 2, Beauvais told defendants’ counsel that Banks accepted the $15,000 settlement offer. But Beauvais didn't tell Banks. Four days later, Banks appeared at the courthouse to attend the hearing scheduled on the pending motions. Only then she learned—from courthouse staff—that there would be no hearing because her case had settled.

On September 14, defendants’ counsel sent Beauvais the settlement check, release, and dismissal with prejudice. On October 5, having received no response from Beauvais, defendants’ counsel sent a follow-up letter. Beauvais still didn't respond. On October 21, defendants’ counsel filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The district court scheduled a hearing for November 18. Beauvais didn't inform Banks of the pending motion or the hearing.

948 N.W.2d 512

At the hearing, Beauvais told the district court that Banks...

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3 practice notes
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Said, No. 20-0797
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • January 8, 2021
    ...for production of documents, failed to secure an expert, and took no depositions. Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Beauvais , 948 N.W.2d 505, 512–13 (Iowa 2020).In sum, the disciplinary rules collectively establish a spectrum of conduct. At the one end is a mere mistake or error of j......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Willey, 21-0214
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • October 15, 2021
    ...prove the attorney "acted with 'some level of scienter' rather than mere negligence." Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Beauvais, 948 N.W.2d 505, 515 (Iowa 2020) (quoting Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Meyer, 944 N.W.2d 61, 69 (Iowa 2020)). We must determine "whether the effe......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. O'Brien, 21-1410
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 18, 2022
    ...to hold both a hearing on the motion and a related hearing on sanctions. In Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Beauvais, 948 N.W.2d 505, 515-16 (Iowa 2020), we held that a lawyer's failure to respond to discovery requests that then required the defendants to file two motions ......
3 cases
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Said, No. 20-0797
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • January 8, 2021
    ...for production of documents, failed to secure an expert, and took no depositions. Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Beauvais , 948 N.W.2d 505, 512–13 (Iowa 2020).In sum, the disciplinary rules collectively establish a spectrum of conduct. At the one end is a mere mistake or error of j......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Willey, 21-0214
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • October 15, 2021
    ...prove the attorney "acted with 'some level of scienter' rather than mere negligence." Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Beauvais, 948 N.W.2d 505, 515 (Iowa 2020) (quoting Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Meyer, 944 N.W.2d 61, 69 (Iowa 2020)). We must determine "whether the effe......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. O'Brien, 21-1410
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 18, 2022
    ...to hold both a hearing on the motion and a related hearing on sanctions. In Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. Beauvais, 948 N.W.2d 505, 515-16 (Iowa 2020), we held that a lawyer's failure to respond to discovery requests that then required the defendants to file two motions ......

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