Legal Ethics

Paralegal Blows Whistle on Ex-Boss, Says Cash Went in Book on Shelf; Lawyer Suspended for One Month

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A paralegal who once worked for Iowa attorney Sara Anna Kersenbrock blew the whistle on her former boss, filing a 2010 disciplinary complaint that resulted in a one-month license suspension.

In a Friday opinion (PDF), the state supreme court imposed the sanction, rejecting a public reprimand proposed by the court’s attorney grievance commission.

The paralegal was a witness for the prosecution in the attorney discipline case, testifying that Kersenbrock didn’t deposit a number of client retainers into her trust account when she worked for the attorney between 2005 and 2010. Instead, Kersenbrock put retainer checks into her law firm operating account and put cash retainers into a drawer or in books on her bookshelf, then spent them when she needed money, the paralegal testified.

Testifying on her own behalf, Kersenbrock said she wasn’t required to deposit most of the retainers into her trust account, because they had already been earned when she put them into her operating account. She acknowledged some record-keeping issues, which she said she had taken steps to correct. She also said she had temporarily put one $3,000 cash retainer in her “sock drawer” for several weeks.

The supreme court found that Kersenbrock, who had no prior history of discipline, had misrepresented her financial practices in annual client security questionnaires. While a public reprimand might have been adequate if her violations of legal ethics rules were more circumscribed, multiple violations called for a more severe sanction, the court said. “The cumulative impact of all violations is an important consideration.”

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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