Legal Ethics

Lawyer who billed corporate client for his sanctions is reprimanded

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An Illinois lawyer has been reprimanded in Iowa as a result of a discovery dispute in which he billed his corporate client for sanctions stemming from his conduct.

Cameron Davidson was reprimanded on Aug. 18 in connection with his representation of agricultural equipment maker Deere & Co., report the Quad City Times and the Associated Press.

According to the Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary Board, Davidson neglected to arrange for Deere’s complete answers during discovery in an employment lawsuit, failed to communicate to Deere the nature of the discovery dispute, and charged Deere for expenses as a result of his own acts or omissions.

The disciplinary board opinion (PDF) told Davidson he “failed to plainly inform that the sanctions resulted from your own lack of diligence and communication.”

In the first billing, Davidson characterized a $700 charge to cover a sanction payable to plaintiff’s lawyer B. Douglas Stephens as “Miscellaneous; Penalty on Discovery; Doug Stephens Law Firm.” In the second, Davidson labeled the billing for a $1,750 sanction as “Misc[ellaneous] Costs.” In the third, Davidson labeled the bill for a $1,050 sanction as “Miscellaneous; Attorneys’ Fees; B. Douglas Stephens.”

Davidson is currently a partner with Pappas Davidson O’Connor & Fildes in Rock Island. At the time of the discovery dispute, he worked at Lane & Waterman in Davenport, Iowa.

Davidson told the Associated Press he self-reported the issues. “There was some misunderstanding as to what the client was aware of,” Davidson told AP. “I wanted to be very forthcoming …, and I’ve fully cooperated.”

According to the opinion, Davidson told discipline officials that Deere had informed him it wanted to object to the plaintiff’s discovery requests, resulting in the initial discovery dispute and the $700 sanction. “I believed that I had discussed this matter with my client, however, my file does not reflect that I sent the motion [to compel and for sanctions, filed by the plaintiff’s lawyer] or the order [to pay $700] to the client,” Davidson wrote.

Davidson told the disciplinary board he was unsure how to respond when the plaintiff’s lawyer filed a second motion to compel and for sanctions on another discovery issue, and he missed the deadline to reply or oppose it. “I again failed to send the motion or the court’s order [to pay $1,750] to the client, which was not aware of the seriousness of the discovery dispute,” Davidson wrote. Nor did he send the plaintiff’s third motion and court order [to pay $1,050] to the client, Davidson wrote to the disciplinary board.

Partners in Davidson’s former firm became aware of the motions and orders, informed Deere, and filed court papers so that the sanctions were to be paid by the law firm, not the client, Davidson wrote.

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