Iowa lawyer reprimanded for failing to show up for clients’ hearings

Lawyer was previously cited for explicit conversations with jail inmate

By: - November 15, 2023 1:48 pm

(Photo via Canva; seal courtesy of the Iowa Judicial Branch)

An Iowa City attorney who repeatedly failed to show up for clients’ parole revocation hearings has been sanctioned by the state.

According to court records, two parole judges have complained to the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board that attorney Tomas Rodriguez of Iowa City has failed to appear for hearings involving multiple clients after the court appointed him their legal representative.

The complaints stated that Rodriguez failed to appear for clients’ parole revocation hearings and failed to return phone calls and emails from parole officers. “His clients are stating that he is not contacting them in jail while they are awaiting hearings,” the judges alleged. “The Board of Parole has no authority to remove him and appoint another attorney. Our orders direct him to either appear and represent his clients or file a motion to withdraw with the court. He does neither. His clients are then left with the option to continue waiting in jail or proceed without their court-appointed attorney.”

The judges explained that parole revocation hearings are usually scheduled for the same day and time each week, are brief, and are handled by phone, making it easy for lawyers to call in and appear on behalf of their client without traveling to the jail.

In response to the Attorney Disciplinary Board’s inquiries, Rodriguez allegedly said he “had other stuff to worry about besides the hearings.”

In a separate complaint, a former client alleged that Rodriguez failed to communicate with him when he faced criminal charges of harassment and burglary, and also failed to inform him of a court hearing. “On several occasions, Mr. Rodriguez just didn’t show up for court, and on other occasions he was hours late,” the client alleged.

Taken together, the board ruled, the two cases indicate something beyond a private admonition is warranted, and it publicly reprimanded Rodriguez for violating the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. Rodriguez is currently a staff attorney with the Linn County Advocate, which provides services to clients the firm is court-appointed to represent. He declined to comment on the disciplinary case.

In November 2020, the board publicly reprimanded Rodriguez for misusing his status at the time as a public defender to engage in intimate conversations with a jail inmate.

According to the board, Rodriguez’s girlfriend was arrested in October 2019 on drug and theft charges while pregnant with Rodriguez’s child. According to the board, Rodriguez and the woman had “explicit” conversations while the woman was detained in the Polk County Jail, including discussions about the occasion on which their child was conceived. The board subsequently reviewed many recorded conversations between the two, as well as 800 text messages.

Although attorneys are entitled to have confidential conversations with their clients in jail, that level of privacy does not extend to attorneys who are having personal conversations with inmates they don’t represent.

The board said Rodriguez had set up two accounts at the Polk County Jail to converse with the woman, including one that was designated as her attorney’s account. The board says that after the woman was arrested, Rodriguez entered an appearance in court on her behalf but withdrew the next day on the advice of his boss. However, he allegedly continued to converse with the woman as if he was her attorney, using his email log-in from the State Public Defender’s office.

The board found that Rodriguez made false statements about the nature of his conversations with his girlfriend, and said that based on his extensive experience, he “simply should have known better.”

In recent weeks, the Attorney Disciplinary Board acted in several other cases involving Iowa-licensed lawyers:

Leila Louisa Hale, who also practices in the state of Nevada, was publicly reprimanded by the board. In August, the State Bar of Nevada reprimanded Hale for conflicts of interest involving clients and a man with whom she shared a personal relationship. The bar alleged that Hale represented two clients in separate personal injury cases and that she employed Dr. Jeffrey Gross as a medical expert in the cases. Gross charged the two clients a total of $29,885 for those services. According to the bar, Hale was “in a long-term relationship with Dr. Gross” at the time and failed to inform her clients of that fact.

Hale’s law firm subsequently filed liens against the money her clients had collected through their lawsuits, and the liens included fees for Dr. Gross’ services. At one point, Hale allegedly paid Gross’ fees using trust-account funds in a manner that put other clients’ money at risk. The Nevada bar reprimanded Hale and directed her to “reflect upon” her actions. The recent Iowa reprimand is based on the actions of the Nevada bar.

Ronald Langford, a Des Moines attorney, was publicly reprimanded for his handling of client funds and failure to properly monitor and manage client trust accounts. Langford had argued that he always maintained enough money in his business accounts to cover any shortages in client accounts. The board stated that Langford “also argued that his clients’ demands take so much of his focus that he does not have time to steal from them,” and added that “the board found these statements troubling.” The board said it was clear that Langford “still failed to appreciate and understand the rules relating to trust accounts and how he was in violation of those rules.”

Jeremy Tomlinson, a Des Moines attorney, was reprimanded for conduct following the suspension of his law license in 2022. According to the board, Tomlinson’s license was suspended on June 6, 2022, for failure to cooperate with an audit conducted by the Client Security Commission. A few weeks later, Tomlinson allegedly filed with the court a motion for a deadline extension in a case. Tomlinson’s license was reinstated on July 17, 2022, but he allegedly failed to respond to the board’s inquiries about practicing law while his license was suspended. That resulted in a second suspension in March 2023. The recent reprimand is for the unauthorized practice of law and for violating rules related to client communication and disciplinary matters.

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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.