State ex rel. Counsel for Discipline of the Neb. Supreme Court v. Barfield, No. S-19-204.

CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam.
Citation938 N.W.2d 863,305 Neb. 79
Parties STATE of Nebraska EX REL. COUNSEL FOR DISCIPLINE OF the NEBRASKA SUPREME COURT, relator, v. Jackie L. BARFIELD, respondent.
Docket NumberNo. S-19-204.
Decision Date21 February 2020

305 Neb. 79
938 N.W.2d 863

Jackie L. BARFIELD, respondent.

No. S-19-204.

Supreme Court of Nebraska.

Filed February 21, 2020

Julie L. Agena, Assistant Counsel for Discipline, for relator.

James Walter Crampton, Omaha, for respondent.

Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.

Per Curiam.

938 N.W.2d 867
305 Neb. 81


The respondent appeals from the report and recommendation of the referee in an attorney disciplinary action. The referee recommended disbarment for violations of Neb. Ct. R. of Prof. Cond. §§ 3-501.15 (safekeeping property) and 3-508.4 (rev. 2016) (misconduct) relating to the attorney’s commingling of earned and unearned client payments and cash withdrawals and checks written from her attorney trust account to pay for business and personal expenses. The trust account also suffered several overdrafts. The respondent argues that suspension rather than disbarment is the appropriate discipline for her actions.


Jackie L. Barfield was admitted to the practice of law in the State of Nebraska in 1993, and at all times relevant was engaged in the practice of law in Omaha, Nebraska. Formal charges against her were filed by the office of the Counsel for Discipline of the Nebraska Supreme Court in February 2019.

The charges alleged that between October 2017 and April 2018, Barfield had written multiple personal checks and had made multiple cash withdrawals out of her attorney trust account. She had also paid insufficient-fund fees several times. Barfield admitted to writing personal checks and taking cash withdrawals from her attorney trust account, as well as having insufficient funds in that account, since at least 2013. Barfield was charged with violating §§ 3-501.15 (safekeeping property) and 3-508.4 (misconduct). Barfield, in her answer, admitted to the allegations.

305 Neb. 82

In mitigation, Barfield pled that (1) any economic harm any person may have suffered from her acts was "of very brief duration," (2) she has been providing services to economically disadvantaged members of the public at lower-than-normal fees throughout her career, (3) she is a minister and religious leader providing "comfort and moral guidance to her small group of followers generally beneficial to the social moral fabric of her community," and (4) she has no prior serious disciplinary complaints except one related to an unpaid bill from a doctor, for which she was privately reprimanded approximately 20 years before. Pursuant to Barfield’s motion, judgment on the pleadings was granted as to the facts, under Neb. Ct. R. § 3-310(L) (rev. 2014).

Neither party filed written exceptions to the referee’s report that was issued after a hearing to determine the nature and extent of the discipline to be imposed, considering any aggravating and mitigating factors. The report set forth that Barfield had been without a business account for approximately 5 years and, since at least 2013, has been withdrawing cash and writing checks on her attorney trust account to pay for personal and business expenses. Barfield has paid insufficient fund charges since 2013 for at least 23 overdrafts on her attorney trust account.

The record reflects that previously, in May 2000, the Nebraska State Bar Association had privately reprimanded Barfield

938 N.W.2d 868

for failing to deposit into her trust account a check issued to honor a medical lien in relation to her client’s settlement and for failing to promptly disburse a portion of the settlement funds designated for medical providers. The Counsel for Discipline had found in the private reprimand that Barfield violated provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility concerning general misconduct, neglect, and preservation of the identity of client funds.1

305 Neb. 83


Barfield testified at the disciplinary hearing. Barfield was not permitted to offer any other evidence concerning mitigation, due to her failure to comply with discovery deadlines.

Barfield explained that her business account had been closed approximately 5 years prior due to lack of funds. Rather than opening another business account, she used her trust account to pay business expenses. She did not open another business account until recently.

Barfield testified that for the past 5 years she had worked part time as a sole practitioner out of her daughter’s home. She explained: "Well, the business expenses are home-related. And I practice out of Bellevue, which is my daughter’s home, and so it’s been difficult, and that’s one of the reasons that I put things related to Barfield Law, I just put it in the trust account." She testified that she has had no support staff since she stopped practicing out of a stand-alone building approximately 5 years before the hearing.

Barfield testified that her retainers were generally small and had been earned sometimes even before they were deposited into the trust account. No client had ever complained about how their funds were handled. When asked whether her commingling and withdrawals had harmed her clients, she said:

Well, in reading some of the case law and — in my mind I didn't think it was, but in reading the case law, I understand since this case has started that even, you know, if you use it there’s a possibility and so, yes, under those circumstances I do agree.

As for the overdrafts, Barfield explained that at least one of the overdrafts was due to a client’s check bouncing—after she had withdrawn the deposit by making a check out to herself.

Barfield noted that since 2014, she has had several health concerns related to her knees and hips. She had been trying to wind up her practice in Nebraska in order to live permanently in Texas, where the weather was better for her health. But the winding up was taking longer than she thought, and she was

305 Neb. 84

traveling back and forth between a daughter’s home in Texas and another daughter’s home in Nebraska. The traveling had put an emotional strain on her, and she suffered from anxiety and migraines. In fact, she had suffered from "anxiety and everything" since she started practicing. Barfield testified that she had taken antidepressants "over the years" and had been prescribed medication for her anxiety.

With regard to the private reprimand approximately 20 years before, Barfield explained that the settlement payment to her client had been stopped due to an ongoing criminal matter in which the FBI was involved. This stop payment, in conjunction with her private practice being otherwise wound down after she accepted a position at a university, "threw my whole account off" and made it difficult for the doctor in question to contact her. Barfield

938 N.W.2d 869

left her job at the university after approximately 1 year of employment there and, in 2000, after taking another year to focus on her family and mental health, returned to private practice.

Barfield asked for any sanction short of disbarment. She stated that she now understood that she could not manage going back and forth between Texas and Nebraska anymore and would stay in Nebraska if allowed to continue to practice, stating:

[M]y intention is if I'm going to practice in Nebraska, I have to live in Nebraska. And the going back and forth is just too stressful. It’s causing me a lot of anxiety and it puts you in the position of having to do more than you can handle.

Barfield testified that she served lower-income clients with the intention of giving back to her community. She explained, "I believe I focus so much probably on trying to do the best work for my clients, and I might have been hyper focused on that than what was going on in my life." Barfield testified that she never wished to harm her clients and believed she could properly manage a trust account in the future.

305 Neb. 85


The referee in his report noted that misuse of client trust accounts, even without obvious misappropriation, harms the reputation of the bar and that an appropriate sanction should be imposed that will deter others from such conduct. Barfield’s conduct, the referee found, had tarnished the reputation of the bar.

The referee found that the duration and repetitive nature of Barfield’s violations reflected negatively on Barfield’s future fitness to practice law. Also, the referee considered Barfield’s conduct to constitute both commingling and misappropriation that caused harm to her clients, reasoning:

[Barfield] admittedly left earned fees in her trust account without a clear accounting and separation until it was impossible to determine what money belonged to her and what belonged to her clients, thus commingling her money with client money. Additionally, [Barfield’s]

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