In this lawyer disciplinary proceeding we review the report of the Grievance Commission, Iowa S.Ct. R. 118.9, recommending that Clarold E. Rogers be severely reprimanded for ethical violations arising from his neglect in disposing of ten estates and two conservatorships, contrary to DR 6-101(A)(3), Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers.
Our review of this proceeding is de novo; the Commission's findings or recommendations are not binding but we accord them respectful consideration. Committee on Professional Ethics v. Rabe, 284 N.W.2d 234, 235 (Iowa 1979).
In its findings of fact the Commission noted that between 1974 and 1977 Rogers had opened ten different estates, but had not diligently sought to close them. For example, two estates were opened in October, 1974; however, nothing was filed in either estate until November, 1979, when the inventories were filed. Similarly, another estate was opened in July, 1976, and Rogers was appointed its attorney the following March; at the time of the Commission's hearing, however, nothing had been filed in the estate since April, 1977. In a fourth instance, an estate was opened in 1975, and Rogers was appointed executor; however, no filings were made in the matter after January, 1978, despite Rogers' assurances in July, 1980 that the estate would be closed within sixty days. Rogers acknowledges that in this last case the estate was not brought to conclusion by due diligence.
The Commission also found that Rogers had neglected two conservatorships, which had been opened in July and September, 1975. Nothing had been filed in either matter until the Committee had lodged its complaint against Rogers in April, 1981.
In addition, the Commission observed that Rogers had been unresponsive to the
I. Violation of Canon 6 ("A Lawyer Should Represent a Client Competently"). DR 6-101(A)(3) provides that a lawyer shall not "[n]eglect a matter entrusted to him." Although "neglect" is not defined in Canon 6, EC 6-4 provides some insight into its definition by noting a lawyer's obligation to his client "requires him to prepare adequately for and give appropriate attention to his legal work." Each case of neglect turns on the particular facts, Committee on Professional Ethics v. Bitter, 279 N.W.2d 521, 524 (Iowa 1979), although a violation of DR 6-101(A)(3) generally involves
ABA Comm. on Professional Ethics, Informal Opinions, No. 1273 (1973).
In Bitter, 279 N.W.2d at 524-25, this court determined that a lawyer's accumulation of a large number (twenty-six) of delinquent probate matters, the length of the delinquencies in some of them, and his failure to satisfactorily respond to judicial notices of delinquency, constituted "neglect" within the meaning of DR 6-101(A)(3). We concluded:
Id. at 525 (emphasis added). See generally Kurtenbach v. TeKippe, 260 N.W.2d 53, 56 (Iowa 1977); D. Meiselman, Attorney Malpractice Law & Procedure § 10.20, at 186-89 (1980); 7 Am.Jur.2d Attorneys at Law § 120, at 189-90 (1980); 7A C.J.S. Attorney & Client § 254, at 458 (1980); Annot., Attorney—Negligence—Discipline, 96 A.L.R.2d 823, 833-35 (1964).
Among the probate statutes with which Rogers failed to comply were section 633.361 (personal representative's report and inventory, due sixty days after qualification), section 633.473 (final settlement of estate, to be made in three years), section 633.642 (conservatorship inventory, to be filed within 60 days after appointment), and section 633.670 (conservator's annual report and accounting), The Code 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981. Rogers has admitted neglect in the disposition of one estate; we agree with the Commission's conclusions that he also neglected his duties in violation of DR 6-101(A)(3) in the remaining probate matters. See generally Bitter, 279 N.W.2d at 524-25; Committee on Professional Ethics v. Griffiths, 262 N.W.2d 264, 264 (Iowa 1978) (dilatory response to title objection); Committee on Professional Ethics v. Wilson, 235 N.W.2d 117, 118 (Iowa 1977) (neglect of litigation matters). See also Committee on Professional Ethics v. Wright, 178 N.W.2d 749,
II. Disciplinary sanction. Various sanctions have been employed by courts for a lawyer's neglect of duty, including disbarment, suspension, and reprimand. See 7A C.J.S., supra, § 118, at 130-31; Annot., supra, 96 A.L.R.2d at 833-35. In Bitter, 279 N.W.2d at 525, we concluded that the lawyer's neglect of duty, inter alia, justified at least a two-month suspension from practice. The form and extent of a disciplinary sanction, however, must be tailored to the specific facts and circumstances of each individual case. See Rabe, 284 N.W.2d at 236; 7 Am.Jur.2d, supra, §§ 58, 59, at 117-18; 7A C.J.S., supra, § 116, at 117-21.
Rogers implies that suspension is not warranted because in Bitter the lawyer's conduct was more serious than that involved in the present case. There are, however, two aggravating circumstances which militate in favor of a harsher sanction than the one we imposed in Bitter. First, Rogers repeatedly failed to acknowledge the seriousness of his conduct, even after the delinquent probate matters had been brought to his attention by parties to the proceedings as well as the Committee. While it is commendable that he has attempted to remedy matters since the filing of the Committee's complaint, the critical fact remains that they were delinquent in the first instance. Rogers was not inclined to cooperate with the requests of the parties or the Committee
We have often stated that attorney disciplinary proceedings are not designed to punish, but rather to determine the fitness of an officer of court to continue in that capacity, to insulate the courts and the public from those persons unfit to practice law, to protect the integrity of and the public confidence in our system of justice, and to deter other lawyers from engaging in similar acts or practices. E.g., Rabe, 284 N.W.2d at 236; In re Frerichs, 238 N.W.2d 764, 767 (Iowa 1979); see 7 Am.Jur.2d, supra, § 26, at 80-81; 7A C.J.S., supra, § 89, at 21-25.
We conclude that Rogers' license to practice law should be suspended indefinitely, with no possibility of reinstatement for four months. This suspension shall apply to all facets of the practice of law. Iowa S.Ct.R. 118.12. Upon application for reinstatement, Rogers shall prove he has performed no legal services during the suspension. His application for reinstatement, if any, shall follow Iowa S.Ct.R. 118.13.
See generally 7 Am.Jur.2d, supra, § 58, at 117.