Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board v. David Ebong Akpan

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA No. 20–0187 Submitted September 16, 2020—Filed November 20, 2020 IOWA SUPREME COURT ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Complainant, vs. DAVID EBONG AKPAN, Respondent. On review of the report of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission. Grievance commission recommends suspension for violations of Texas ethical rules in the handling of an immigration matter. ATTORNEY REPRIMANDED. Mansfield, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Christensen, C.J., and McDonald, Oxley, and McDermott, JJ., joined, and in which Appel, J., joined in part. Appel, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. Waterman, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Tara van Brederode and Wendell J. Harms (argued), for complainant. David L. Brown (argued) and Tyler R. Smith of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines, for respondent. 2 MANSFIELD, Justice. This attorney disciplinary case with interstate dimensions involves an Iowa-licensed attorney who practiced immigration law in Texas. The attorney received payments totaling $4000 from a client on a flat-fee representation. He put those payments directly in his operating account. After the attorney had worked on the case for a while, the client changed her mind and decided not to go forward with the representation. The attorney refused to refund any of the payments or to provide an accounting. The client filed a complaint with the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board. The Board charged various violations of the Texas Attorney Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. The matter went to a hearing before a division of the Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission. At the hearing, which occurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the client was allowed to testify by video over the attorney’s objection. The commission found a number of violations and recommended a suspension. On our review, we find that the attorney violated the Texas rules when he failed to deposit client payments in his trust account, took those payments as income before they were earned, and failed to provide accountings to his client. We are not persuaded, however, that the attorney violated Texas’s prohibition on “unconscionable” fees when he collected $4000 for the work performed, which included many hours spent trying to get information from his client. We also believe the Board failed to show a sufficient basis for the admission of video testimony. As a sanction, we impose a public reprimand. I. Facts and Procedural History. Attorney David Akpan is originally from Nigeria. He came to the United States in 1990 and became a United States citizen in 1994. In 3 1998, Akpan received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. In 2003, Akpan graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, located in Houston, Texas. Akpan was admitted to the Iowa bar in 2010. Until 2017, Akpan practiced immigration law exclusively in Texas. Currently, he is winding down his immigration practice and does contract work in the Houston area for the United States Small Business Administration. Akpan is ...

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