Eastern Iowa lawyer loses license over ‘theft’ of client funds

By: - April 17, 2022 3:15 pm

The Iowa Judicial Building. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

The Iowa Supreme Court has revoked the license of an eastern Iowa attorney for “an act of theft” and for his neglect of clients’ legal matters.

In 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board had charged attorney John Karl Fischer, of the Fischer Law Firm in Vinton, with more than a dozen ethics rule violations. The Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa conducted a hearing on the matter last April and subsequently recommended to the court that Fischer’s license be revoked.

Commission records indicate that after representing two individuals who had agreed to split the cost of a settlement and Fischer’s legal fees, one of the clients paid his half, but the other did not. Fischer then applied some of the paying clients’ money to the legal bill owed by the other client, allegedly because he was angry.

In its recommendation to the court, the commission reviewed the matter and concluded that Fischer had deliberately misappropriated a client’s money in two instances and that those acts “reflect adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness to practice law.” The commission added that in both instances, Fischer’s actions “were dishonest, fraudulent (and) deceitful.”

The commission said it “appears obvious” why Fischer, after taking the money, did not maintain contact with the clients, stating that it was “because he did not want them aware of the mishandling of funds … In the commission’s opinion, this goes well beyond negligence.”

The Attorney Disciplinary Board also noted that in a separate legal matter, Fischer had been sanctioned by the district court for repeatedly failing to comply with discovery requests and court orders. The board quoted the district court judge in that case, who had written that he found Fischer’s failure to comply with three separate court orders “astonishing” and a willful act of bad faith. In that case, the judge granted the opposing counsel’s motion for a default judgment against Fischer’s client due to Fischer’s actions.

In deciding to revoke Fischer’s license on Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court stated, “We conclude the board has demonstrated by a convincing preponderance of the evidence that Fischer’s misappropriation was an intentional act of theft, not a technical violation, and revocation is the appropriate sanction.”

In 2008, Fischer had been given a public reprimand for failing to act diligently on behalf of a client and for not adequately communicating with a client.

In 2012, he had been given a private admonition for taking fees in an estate matter prior to the court having authorized those fees. It was also found that he had sent out bills for fees that were not authorized by the court.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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