IN THE MATTER OF: RONALD LORDS, An Attorney at Law, Respondent.
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.
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).
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.
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'
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Court reviews de novo the Commission's findings of fact,
conclusions of law, and recommendations. In re
Neuhardt,2014 MT 88, ¶ 16, 374 ...