Legal Ethics

Falsified discovery requests lead to suspension for Iowa City lawyer

The Iowa Supreme Court has suspended an Iowa City lawyer for six months for faking discovery requests that he had forgotten to serve on opposing counsel.

The lawyer, Jeffrey McGinness, was a member of the Iowa City Community School Board and a former national champion wrestler at the University of Iowa. The Iowa City Press-Citizen, the Associated Press and the Gazette have stories on the suspension, while Legal Profession Blog links to the court opinion (PDF).

McGinness’ troubles began when he realized five days before a scheduled deposition in June 2012 that he had forgotten to serve discovery requests on opposing counsel. “To cure his oversight, McGinness embarked on a course of dishonest conduct he will regret for the remainder of his legal career,” the Iowa Supreme Court opinion says.

McGinness decided to act as if he had already served the discovery requests and created documents to cover his tracks, the opinion says. First he told opposing counsel he needed answers to the discovery requests he had sent. When the opposing lawyer said no such requests had been received, McGinness sent two discovery requests also with certificates of service purporting to show that the documents were served March 21.

The opposing lawyer examined electronic metadata in the documents and determined that they were created in June, after they were supposed to have been served. The opposing lawyer also hired an expert who said the certificates of service were photocopies of prior documents served on McGinness. When the opposing counsel confronted McGinness with the findings, “McGinness did not fess up; he embellished,” the court said. When the opposing counsel sought sanctions, McGinness denied wrongdoing and continued his “elaborate deceit,” the court said.

After the court ruled against McGinness and an ethics complaint was filed, McGinness admitted the alleged misconduct and expressed “extreme disappointment” in himself, the court said. He sought no more than a three-month suspension.

McGinness worked at Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman when he falsified the documents, according to the Press-Citizen. He now has a solo practice. McGinness’ lawyer, Gregory Lederer, told the Press-Citizen that six months is a “severe sanction.”

“I’m certain that Jeff will respect and abide by the court’s ruling and he will make whatever decisions that he needs to make with respect to his future in the best way that he can for himself and his family,” Lederer said. “It’s a challenge, but he knows that he’s the person that put himself there, and I admire Jeff for standing up and accepting the consequences for his decision like he has.”

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