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Iowa Lawyer Suspended for Excessive Billing of Defender’s Office

May 18, 2020, 8:49 PM

An Iowa attorney working as a contractor for the state public defender’s office was suspended for a year by the state high court for what was found to be excessive billing.

The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Committee recommended a 60-day suspension for attorney Jennifer Meyer but the high court disagreed. “In our view, the commission underestimated the dollar amount Meyer overcharged the SPD,” the court’s May 15 opinion said.

In 2013, the state public defender raised concerns about Meyer’s billing practices and mileage expenses, the court said.

For instance, he noticed that she had billed that office 24 hours or more in a single day on 19 different dates, it said. He also found that in July 2009, Meyer billed 353.8 hours, which is “highly improbable” for a single month because it would require billing more than 11 hours a day for 31 straight days, the court said in citing the record.

Also, discrepancies with Meyer’s claims for mileage reimbursement showed that she had billed multiple clients for the full mileage to the same location on the same day, the court said.

The Iowa attorney general charged Meyer with first-degree fraudulent practice and first-degree theft, both felonies, the court said. Meyer entered an Alford plea to third-degree theft and was ordered to pay $102,989 in restitution, it said.

The district court accepted the plea, which isn’t an admission of the criminal act and is an assertion of innocence, saying there was “strong evidence” of Meyer’s guilt which “substantially” negated her claim of innocence, the court noted.

The high court agreed with the commission that Meyer’s plea showed she violated rules prohibiting unreasonable fees, criminal acts, and dishonesty.

It rejected Meyer’s argument for a 30-day suspension, and found that the commission’s 60-day recommendation was too little for the level of deception in this case. However, the mitigating factors “cut against imposing a longer suspension,” it said.

She received praise by two judges for the quality of her work and was called a “superb advocate,” the court said.

Meyer has volunteered for pro bono cases at an Iowa veterans home and through legal aid groups, it said. She’s also reimbursed the defender’s office more than $53,000 and is making monthly payments for the rest, the court said.

She will have to show that she’s continued the payments to be eligible for reinstatement it said, and suspended her.

The case is Iowa Supreme Court Atty. Disciplinary Bd. v. Meyer, 2020 BL 182986, Iowa, No. 19-1862, 5/15/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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