IOWA SUPREME COURT v. Lett, No. 03-1646.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtSTREIT, Justice.
Citation674 N.W.2d 139
PartiesIOWA SUPREME COURT BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS AND CONDUCT, Complainant, v. Stacie L. LETT, Respondent.
Decision Date22 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03-1646.

674 N.W.2d 139

IOWA SUPREME COURT BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS AND CONDUCT, Complainant,
v.
Stacie L. LETT, Respondent

No. 03-1646.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

January 22, 2004.


674 N.W.2d 140
Norman G. Bastemeyer and Charles L. Harrington, Des Moines, for complainant

Stacie L. Lett, Des Moines, pro se.

STREIT, Justice.

The Grievance Commission recommends we permanently revoke Stacie L. Lett's license to practice law in Iowa. The Commission determined Lett repeatedly violated mandatory provisions of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers. The Commission found Lett stole client funds, neglected duties owed to her clients, lied to her clients to cover up her misdeeds, failed to promptly return client property upon withdrawal, disregarded court orders, and failed to cooperate with the investigation of the Iowa Supreme Court Board of Professional Ethics and Conduct. We agree with the findings and recommendation of the Commission and revoke Lett's license to practice law.

674 N.W.2d 141
I. Prior Proceedings

In 1998, Stacie L. Lett was licensed to practice law in Iowa. Since then, she has spent much of her time in private practice in Des Moines.

In November 2002, Lett pled guilty to theft in the second degree, a class "D" felony, for stealing approximately $5000 in client funds. See Iowa Code §§ 714.1(2), .2(2) (2001) (theft in excess of $1000 but not more than $10,000 is theft in the second degree, a class "D" felony). In January 2003, the district court deferred judgment and placed Lett on two years' probation.

Upon learning of Lett's plea, we ordered Lett to appear and show cause why her license to practice law should not temporarily be suspended. See Iowa Ct. R. 35.14(1) ("Upon receipt by the supreme court of satisfactory evidence that an attorney had pled guilty to ... a crime which would be grounds for license suspension or revocation, such attorney may be temporarily suspended from the practice of law by the supreme court ... the attorney concerned shall be notified ... that the attorney has a right to appear before one or more justices of the supreme court ... and show cause why such suspension should not take place."). Following a hearing in February 2003, we temporarily suspended Lett's license to practice law. See id.

In March 2003, the Iowa Supreme Court Board of Professional Ethics and Conduct filed a formal complaint against Lett. The complaint alleged Lett had repeatedly violated several mandatory provisions of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers, including the theft to which Lett pled guilty in the district court.

Lett did not answer the Board's complaint. Lett's failure to answer constituted an admission of the allegations in the complaint. Iowa Ct. R. 36.7; Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Reese, 657 N.W.2d 457, 458 (Iowa 2003). Lett also failed to respond to the Board's written requests for admissions. Lett's failure to respond to the Board's requests for admissions was also an admission of the allegations therein. Iowa Ct. R. 35.6; Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.510; Reese, 657 N.W.2d at 459.

In June 2003, the Grievance Commission held a hearing regarding Lett's conduct. At the hearing, Lett did not attempt to deny her actions. Lett's counsel stated:

[W]e're not denying the allegations. We're not going to attempt to mitigate those allegations. We're not going to try to justify the allegations. What we would like to do ... is to try to explain the circumstances surrounding the allegations with the same desire as opposing counsel ... for an appropriate sanction. Ms. Lett fully expects her license to be, at a minimum, suspended, if not disbarred.

Lett pointed out circumstances in her life which, she contended, warranted a threeyear suspension of her license to practice law in Iowa. To this end, Lett testified at the hearing and offered into evidence six letters in which she belatedly attempted to respond to some of the Board's notices of complaint.

The Grievance Commission found Lett had repeatedly violated mandatory provisions of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers. In particular, the Commission found Lett stole client funds, neglected duties owed to her clients, lied to her clients to cover up her misdeeds, failed to promptly return client property upon withdrawal, disregarded court orders, and failed to cooperate with the investigation of the Iowa Supreme Court Board of Professional Ethics and

674 N.W.2d 142
Conduct. The Commission recommended we permanently revoke Lett's license

Lett does not appeal the report of the Grievance Commission. Our de novo review is nonetheless required. Iowa Ct. R. 35.10(1).

II. Scope of Review

Where "no appeal is taken or application for permission to appeal is filed ... [we] proceed to review de novo the record made before the commission and determine the matter without oral argument or further notice to the parties." Iowa Ct. R. 35.10(1). "We give respectful consideration to the Grievance Commission's findings and recommendations, but are not bound by them." Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Vinyard, 656 N.W.2d 127, 130-31 (Iowa 2003).

The Board must prove attorney misconduct by a convincing preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 131. This burden is less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but more than the preponderance standard required in the usual civil case. Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. D'Angelo, 619 N.W.2d 333, 337 (Iowa 2000). Once misconduct is proven, we "may impose a lesser or greater sanction than the discipline recommended by the grievance commission." Iowa Ct. R. 35.10(1); see, e.g., Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Bell, 650 N.W.2d 648, 650 (Iowa 2002) (revoking license even though Commission recommended five-year suspension).

III. Factual Findings

Based upon Lett's admissions and the evidence presented to the Grievance Commission, we make the following factual findings:

A. The Steim-Tudor Transaction

In March 2002, Barry and Denise Steim hired Lett to prepare a contract for the sale of their house to Scott Tudor. The parties agreed Tudor would take possession on May 1, 2002. Lett told the Steims the contract would be completed before this date.

Janelle Jacobsen, Tudor's ex-wife, gave Lett a check for $5150. Of this sum, $5000 was given in trust to Lett as a down payment for the house; the remaining $150 would be applied to Lett's fee once she completed the sale. Lett told the Steims she would hold the $5150 in her trust account, in order to pay necessary expenses for the sale on their behalf.

Lett never prepared the contract. Instead, she removed the Steims' money from the trust account and kept it in a jar in her house. Lett claimed she stole the Steims' money to pay for her burial expenses. Lett reasoned she needed the money because if she decided to commit suicide her parents would not have enough money to bury her.

As the closing date approached, the Steims repeatedly attempted to contact Lett, asking her to apprise them of the status of the contract and, eventually, to return their abstract. For the most part, Lett ignored the Steims' requests. When Lett did respond to the Steims, she lied about the reason for the delay. The closing date passed.

The Steims filed a complaint with the Iowa Supreme Court Board of Professional Ethics and Conduct. The Steims also called the police. To draw up the contract, the Steims had to hire another attorney.

Lett pled guilty to theft in the second degree, a class "D" felony. See Iowa Code §§ 714.1(2), .2(2). The district court deferred judgment and placed Lett on two years' probation, ordered her to pay restitution,

674 N.W.2d 143
and mandated she undergo "a Gambling and Psychological Evaluation."

B. The Smith-Cleveland Transaction

In 2002, Miriam Cleveland asked Lett to help her purchase a mobile home from Jason Smith. Cleveland gave Lett two checks totaling $25,300 for the purchase of the home. Of this sum, Lett...

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69 practice notes
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Bieber, No. 12–1203.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 7, 2012
    ...but more than the preponderance standard required in the usual civil case.” Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 142 (Iowa 2004). It is also a less stringent burden than clear and convincing evidence which is “the highest civil law standard of proof.” Iow......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Kozlik, No. 19-1934
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 22, 2020
    ...licenses of lawyers who convert funds entrusted to them should be revoked."); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett , 674 N.W.2d 139, 144–45 (Iowa 2004) ; Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Leon , 602 N.W.2d 336, 339 (Iowa 1999). When an attorney converts f......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Henrichsen, No. 12–1567.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 18, 2013
    ...greater sanction than the discipline recommended by the grievance commission.” Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 142 (Iowa 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).II. Factual and Procedural Background. Henrichsen has been licensed to prac......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Powell, No. 12–1516.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 3, 2013
    ...Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Anderson, 687 N.W.2d 587, 590 (Iowa 2004); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 144–45 (Iowa 2004); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Leon, 602 N.W.2d 336, 339 (Iowa 1999). In one of these cases where......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
69 cases
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Bieber, No. 12–1203.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 7, 2012
    ...but more than the preponderance standard required in the usual civil case.” Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 142 (Iowa 2004). It is also a less stringent burden than clear and convincing evidence which is “the highest civil law standard of proof.” Iow......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Kozlik, No. 19-1934
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 22, 2020
    ...licenses of lawyers who convert funds entrusted to them should be revoked."); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett , 674 N.W.2d 139, 144–45 (Iowa 2004) ; Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Leon , 602 N.W.2d 336, 339 (Iowa 1999). When an attorney converts f......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Henrichsen, No. 12–1567.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • January 18, 2013
    ...greater sanction than the discipline recommended by the grievance commission.” Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 142 (Iowa 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).II. Factual and Procedural Background. Henrichsen has been licensed to prac......
  • Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Bd. v. Powell, No. 12–1516.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 3, 2013
    ...Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Anderson, 687 N.W.2d 587, 590 (Iowa 2004); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Lett, 674 N.W.2d 139, 144–45 (Iowa 2004); Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof'l Ethics & Conduct v. Leon, 602 N.W.2d 336, 339 (Iowa 1999). In one of these cases where......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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