Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Ranniger

Decision Date14 October 2022
Docket Number22-0796
Citation981 N.W.2d 9
Parties IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant, v. William Wayne RANNIGER, Respondent.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

981 N.W.2d 9

IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant,
v.
William Wayne RANNIGER, Respondent.

No. 22-0796

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Submitted September 15, 2022
Filed October 14, 2022


Tara van Brederode, Lawrence Dempsey (until withdrawal), and Allison Anne Schmidt, Des Moines, for complainant.

John C. Gray (until withdrawal) of Heidman Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Sioux City, for respondent, then William W. Ranniger, Manning, pro se.

May, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which all participating justices joined. Christensen, C.J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

MAY, Justice.

981 N.W.2d 12

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board (Board) alleged that William W. Ranniger violated Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.8(a) by entering improper business transactions with a client and rule 32:1.8(c) by preparing a will that included a gift to Ranniger's son. Following a hearing, a division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found the Board proved violations of both rules. The commission recommended a public reprimand. Following our review, we find and conclude Ranniger violated rules 32:1.8(a) and 32:1.8(c). We conclude a public reprimand is appropriate.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

A. Ranniger's Legal Practice. William W. Ranniger has been licensed to practice law in Iowa since 1976. Ranniger practices in Manning, Iowa. He has had no previous history of discipline.

Ranniger has had his own practice since 1983.1 His practice is general, although most of his work involves probate, real estate, and income taxes. Ranniger's daughter, Ashley Moore, is also an attorney. Ashley worked for Ranniger briefly. Ranniger's wife, Deborah, is his secretary.

B. Ranniger and Lipton's Relationship. Michael Liggett Lipton (Lipton) was a resident of Manilla, Iowa. He lived in a trailer house on the outskirts of town. It is undisputed that Lipton's financial situation was poor. For example, his 2017 federal income tax returns showed Lipton's only reported income was $7,691 in social security benefits. His 2020 returns showed $8,071 in social security benefits plus $12,836 in VA benefits.

Lipton and Ranniger had a long relationship. Lipton first met Ranniger when Lipton brought in some legal work for his mother. Then, for approximately twenty years, Ranniger performed legal work for Lipton without charging him. For example, Ranniger defended Lipton against nuisance claims by the city of Manilla. Ranniger also assisted Lipton in obtaining VA benefits. And Ranniger served as Lipton's power of attorney both for financial and medical purposes.

Ranniger and Lipton were also friends. They ate lunch together often; Ranniger always paid. They also had dinner together around holidays, although they never exchanged holiday gifts.

C. Sales of Property from Lipton to Ranniger. While Ranniger was serving as Lipton's attorney, Ranniger purchased several pieces of real and personal property from Lipton. Ranniger testified that he bought the property from Lipton when Lipton needed money. Ranniger claimed that he did not negotiate with Lipton. Rather, according to Ranniger, when Lipton proposed a price for a piece of property,

981 N.W.2d 13

Ranniger would simply agree and make the purchase. Here are the particulars:

• In October 2007, Ranniger purchased a forklift for $7,000.

• In September 2009, Ranniger purchased a 1987 Peterbilt semitruck for $8,500.

• In December 2009, Ranniger purchased a grain trailer for $17,000.

• In March 2012, Ranniger purchased three parcels of vacant land in Manilla, Iowa, for $12,000.

• In September 2012, Ranniger purchased a GMC pickup truck for $2,200.

• In March 2013, Ranniger purchased a Buick vehicle for $4,000.

The terms of these transactions were not written down. Ranniger did not advise Lipton in writing about the desirability of seeking independent legal counsel regarding these sales. Additionally, Ranniger did not obtain Lipton's informed written consent to the essential terms of the transactions, e.g., whether Ranniger was representing Lipton in the transactions.

D. Will Prepared by Ranniger. In 2017, Ranniger prepared a last will and testament (Will) for Lipton. Lipton signed the Will in May 2017.

Article I of the Will directs the costs of Lipton's "last illness, funeral expenses, costs of administration, and any debts remaining" to be paid from Lipton's estate. Article II leaves photographs and family memorabilia to two of Lipton's cousins. Article III provides "[a]ll the rest, residue and remainder of my property, real, personal and mixed, of which I may die seized or possessed or to which I may be entitled, I give, devise and bequeath to my friend, Nathan Ranniger." Article IV designates Deborah Ranniger as the executor of the Will.

Nathan Ranniger (Nathan) is Ranniger's son. Neither Ranniger nor Nathan was related to Lipton by blood or marriage.

Lipton passed away on March 28, 2021. Ranniger's daughter—Ashley Moore—was responsible for probating Lipton's estate. A probate petition was filed in Crawford County on March 30, 2021. According to an inventory filed in the probate case, the total gross value of Lipton's assets at the time of his death was $50,143.11.

Pursuant to the Will, five parcels of Crawford County land were transferred from Lipton's estate to Nathan. Nathan is still the owner of those five parcels.

In March 2021, the Crawford County Assessor issued a notice of assessed value for the five parcels. The notice stated these values:

• Parcel #1925101010 - $2,550

• Parcel #1925101011 - $2,550

• Parcel #1925101012 - $2,550

• Parcel #1925101014 - $19,940

• Parcel #1925105007 - $10,710

One of the parcels (#1925101014) includes a structure. The assessed value of the structure is $16,570. According to the parties’ stipulation, though, this structure will be removed. So, the net assessed value of this parcel is $3,370.

All told, then, Nathan received real property with a total assessed value of $38,300. Once the structure is removed, the total assessed value of the land will be $21,730.

Nathan also received some personal property from Lipton's estate. He received an older truck, which he sold for $2,500. He also sold some other items for salvage and received $928. And he received $423.50 for items he sold online and at a yard sale. Nathan also received another truck. He still has possession of that vehicle.

981 N.W.2d 14

Lipton's death also resulted in expenses. Nathan paid an inheritance tax of $3,228.08. Nathan's father, Ranniger, paid $4,070 to a funeral home plus $3,331.76 to Carlyle Memorial. Also, the parcels that Nathan received have junk and debris on them. The city of Manilla believes the junk and debris are a nuisance. Manilla wants it removed. Ranniger received a $9,198 estimate to remove the junk and debris.

All things considered, Ranniger believes the "net amount willed to Nathan" added up to $5,693.16. Here are Ranniger's calculations, as stated in his posthearing brief before the commission:

Assets
• Real Estate (5 lots) less trailer $21,720.00
• Older Truck (sold) $2,500.00
• Older Truck - needs repair not a whole lot
• Salvage value $928.00
• Items sold at flea market $423.00
TOTAL $25,521.00
Liabilities (after other Estate debts paid)
• Carlyle Memorial (paid by [Ranniger]) $ 3,331.76
• Funeral Bill (paid by [Ranniger]) $ 4,070.00
• Inheritance Tax (paid by Nathan) $ 3,228.08
• Templeton Removal of debris $ 9,198.00
TOTAL LIABILITIES $19,827.84
NET VALUE $ 5,693.16

After learning about the contents of the Will, Lipton's family and friends were concerned that the lawyer's son was inheriting almost all of Lipton's property. Joshua Enenbach is a longtime friend of Lipton. Enenbach helped care for Lipton as his health began to decline. He took care of Lipton's property...

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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 20, 2023
    ...outrageous."II. Scope of Review. We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Ranniger , 981 N.W.2d 9, 15 (Iowa 2022). The Board must prove violations of our disciplinary rules by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id. We are not boun......
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    ...11 II. Scope of Review. We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Ranniger, 981 N.W.2d 9, 15 (Iowa 2022). The Board must prove violations of our disciplinary rules by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id. We are not bound by the c......
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    ...12 II. Scope of Review. We review attorney disciplinary proceedings de novo. Iowa Sup. Ct. Att'y Disciplinary Bd. v. Ranniger, 981 N.W.2d 9, 15 (Iowa 2022). The Board must prove violations of our disciplinary rules by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id. We are not bound by the c......
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