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Iowa lawyer suspended for withdrawing minimum fee from trust account and failing or refusing to account for or return funds to client

Hello and welcome to this JACPA Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the April 6, 2012 Supreme Court of Iowa opinion suspending a lawyer for 30 days for withdrawing a $2,500.00 minimum fee from his trust account, failing or refusing to account for the fee when requested to do so by the client, billing for his time to provide an accounting, and being “uncooperative and unapologetic”.  The opinion is attached.

According to the opinion, the lawyer entered into a fee agreement with a client accused of the Iowa state criminal charge of enticement of a minor.  The fee agreement provided for a billing rate of $225.00 an hour with a minimum fee of $2,500.00 as a non-refundable retainer.

The Iowa state criminal charges were dropped a few weeks after the client’s arrest when a federal charge was filed based on the same facts.  The client retained a different lawyer to represent him on the federal charges.  The lawyer withdrew the $2,500.00 retainer from his trust account five days later but did not provide the client with any notice of the fee withdrawal.

The lawyer billed 3.7 hours on the case, including an hour spent to provide an accounting of his time.  The opinion stated that a reasonable fee under the circumstances would have been about $600.00 and “(t)he amount of the fee charged and collected by (the lawyer) for performing the limited and insignificant services in representing his client was, without question, unreasonable.”

The lawyer was “uncooperative and unapologetic” at a disciplinary hearing and, “(a)lmost defiantly, but without support, he maintained the fee he charged was not unreasonable.”  The lawyer was suspended for 30 days.

Bottom line: do you think that this Iowa lawyer possibly should have been just a little less defiant in the Bar proceedings and shouldn’t have billed for the time he allegedly spent accounting for his time?  Talk amongst yourselves…

…and be careful out there.

            As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.





My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license.

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at [email protected].  You can find my law firm on the web at In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

[email protected]

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