Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Missouri Attorney Suspended for Improper Handling of IOLTA Accounts & Misconduct

In In re Coleman 295 S.W. 3rd 857 (Mo. 2009), the Missouri Supreme Court imposed a one year probationary period on a lawyer for improper use of IOLTA accounts funds and for improper filing a motion in court to enforce a settlement agreement.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s ordered a stayed suspension for filing a motion in court in an attempt to enforce a settlement agreement that violated Missouri Rule of Professional Conduct 4 – 1.2 and for writing a check on his IOLTA account to pay his fees and cost that violated Missouri Rule of Professional Conduct 4 – 1.5.

The lawyer improperly filed a motion to enforce a settlement agreement despite a client’s refusal to settle and for leaving his share of settlement proceeds in the IOLTA account and then would write checks to pay personal obligations directly out of the IOLTA account. The court held that the attorneys’ actions arose out of ignorance of the rules of professional conduct instead of an intention to violate the rules and that it is likely that his misconduct can be remedied by education and supervision.

This case teaches the importance of an attorneys’ duty to fully understand the rules of profession conduct within the state that they practice in. The proper use of IOLTA accounts in Rule 4 – 1.5 states that a lawyer is to “hold client and third party property separate from his own property”. Rule 4 – 1.2 requires a lawyer to “accept and adhere to the client’s decision whether to accept an offer of settlement in a matter”.

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