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In re Lords

Supreme Court of Montana

June 18, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: RONALD LORDS, An Attorney at Law, Respondent.

          ORDER

         On January 16, 2019, a formal disciplinary complaint was filed in this matter against Montana attorney Ronald Lords. This complaint may be reviewed by any interested person in the office of the Clerk of this Court.

         After the complaint was served on Lords, his attorney Mark Parker informed the Commission on Practice (COP) that Lords would not file a response. On February 8, 2019, the Commission on Practice (COP) entered default and deemed the complaint's allegations to be admitted pursuant to Rule 12(C)(2) of the Montana Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (MRLDE).

         On April 17, 2019, the COP held a hearing to determine the appropriate form of discipline to recommend to this Court. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) made arguments and offered its investigator as a witness. Parker did not question the witness, but presented a brief closing statement. Lords did not personally appear.

         On May 3, 2019, the COP submitted to this Court its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation for Discipline. Lords filed objections, and the ODC replied to Lords' objections.

         This Complaint arose from financial transactions Lords engaged in between his solo law practice, Eagles Landing Legal Services, P.C., and his construction company, Eagles Landing Construction Company, LLC. Between June 2011 and September 2017, Lords advised numerous legal clients to either invest in, or loan money to, his construction business. Because Lords also worked as a tax preparer, he was able to use his intimate knowledge of these clients' financial circumstances to his advantage. Most of these clients were elderly, and Lords persuaded them to gift money to their children as a way of minimizing taxes and avoiding Medicaid limits. The children then "invested" these funds in Lords' construction company.

         Lords obtained a total of approximately $1, 330, 000 from 14 individuals. He deposited most of the funds in various personal or business accounts, but also deposited some of the funds in his IOLTA account. He then used those funds for his and his family's personal expenses. Although Lords made some payments to some individuals, usually out of the IOLTA account, he kept no ledger of each client's property and he ultimately defaulted on all of the loans. He then failed to respond to his clients' efforts to contact him and to obtain the payments due. After the ODC received a complaint from one client, it requested responses from Lords on numerous occasions, but Lords did not respond to the ODC.

         Based on the admitted findings, the COP concluded Lords violated M. R. Pro. Cond. 1.8(a)(3), 1.15, 1.18, 1.4, 8.1, and 8.4(c).[1]

         The COP recommended Lords be disbarred and that he be ordered to pay full restitution to each person harmed by his actions in the amount of $ 1, 069, 970.83, plus interest on the unpaid principal amount from the date of last payment to each victim until fully satisfied, and that he be assessed the costs incurred by the ODC and the COP in these proceedings. In recommending this discipline, the COP explained:

The conduct of Mr. Lords involves breaches of fiduciary duties, misrepresentation, deceit and dishonesty with numerous, vulnerable clients and former clients. His conduct took place over a lengthy period of time, was repetitious, and malicious. In the view of the Commission, Lords['] defalcations are the most egregious and heinous we can remember. It cannot be condemned in strong enough language.

         Lords has not objected to the discipline of disbarment or the costs of proceedings, but objects only to the award of restitution. He raises three arguments on this issue: (1) the January 16, 2019 Complaint does not specifically ask for an award of restitution; (2) Lords cannot follow the recommended award because it fails to identify to whom what amounts are owed; and (3) restitution is better addressed in the courts through criminal or civil proceedings.

         ODC has responded to each of Lords' arguments. First, it argues that while its Complaint did not specifically ask for restitution, it later filed a Recommendation for Discipline in which it asked the COP to recommend restitution to Lords' victims, to which Lords' counsel did not object.

         Next, it points out that at the April 17, 2019 disciplinary hearing, it entered into evidence a spreadsheet which shows the identify of each victim, the amount borrowed, interest paid, principal paid, and the total amount owing each victim, to an overall total of $1, 069, 970.83-the exact amount recommended by the COP. Thus, Lords can readily ascertain to whom he owes what amount.

         Finally, the ODC points out that MRLDE 9A(6) provides "restitution to persons financially injured" as a form of permissible discipline in these matters. Since the COP has the authority to make such recommendation and this Court has the authority to accept or reject the COP's recommendations, further criminal or civil proceedings are unnecessary.

         This Court reviews de novo the Commission's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations. In re Neuhardt,2014 MT 88, ¶ 16, 374 ...


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