Cape lawyer gets 18 months probation in misconduct sanction

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Scott Reynolds

The Missouri Supreme Court has sanctioned a Cape Girardeau criminal defense lawyer on two charges of professional misconduct, opting for a penalty of probation that will stay on his permanent disciplinary record but still allows him to practice law.

Scott D. Reynolds, 50, in an order signed by Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman, had an 18-month suspension of his law license stayed and was instead placed on probation for the same period under the state's lawyer discipline system. The court also imposed a $1,000 fine.

The formal reprimand stems from Reynolds' guilty plea in 2010 to the misdemeanor domestic assault of his former fiancee. A second conduct charge originated later that same year when a client claimed he could not get a retainer refund from Reynolds until he filed two lawsuits and took his gripe to the Missouri Bar.

Reynolds declined to comment on the record.

The order will stay in Reynolds' disciplinary file for the remainder of his career. But the high court's decision does allow him to continue practicing law during the probationary period set to expire in March 2014. Conditions of his probation include reporting to a probation monitor, submitting quarterly reports detailing his practice and a mandate that he comply with all of the rules of professional conduct that govern the Missouri Bar and other members of the judiciary.

Reynolds must attend ethics school, a program developed by the Missouri Bar and the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Reynolds also must obtain a mental health evaluation within 60 days of the order. He must then follow the mental health professional's recommendation for treatment or therapy, according to the order.

Failure to comply with the conditions would constitute a probation violation, which could cause the court to terminate Reynolds' probation and suspend his license for 18 months.

The Missouri Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, the investigating arm of the state supreme court, filed a charge in January against Reynolds that there was probable cause to believe he was guilty of professional misconduct. A disciplinary hearing panel of two lawyers and one member of the public convened in May to hear testimony in charges against Reynolds and 27 other Missouri lawyers.

The panel determined that Reynolds did, in fact, violate the professional conduct rules that govern the Missouri Bar and other members of the judiciary.

The Missouri Supreme Court agreed, pointing to a rule that states it is professional misconduct to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on a lawyer's "honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer" in other respects.

While Reynolds pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of third-degree domestic assault of his former fiancee, the original charges were more severe. Reynolds, first licensed to practice law in 1990, was initially handed felony charges that claimed he punched and kicked his fiancee Feb. 17, 2010, at his home in Jackson. The incident allegedly took place during an argument, court records show.

Reynolds has always denied those charges, instead saying he pulled her "hair lace" from her head.

The criminal charges against Reynolds made headlines at the time, but the second disciplinary complaint against him had not been made public until the release of several court documents Monday by the high court's Office of Legal Ethics. The charging document reveals that a brief client of Reynolds met with him in January 2010 about a pending divorce and paid a $750 advance fee for his representation.

After filing on his client's behalf, the records say Reynolds was arrested a month later and taken into custody on the domestic assault charge. The client, who heard about the arrest through media outlets, found another lawyer after he was unable make contact with Reynolds. When Reynolds was released from jail that March, the client stopped to see him and ask for the return of his retainer.

According to the complaint, the client had to sue Reynolds twice and file a complaint with the Missouri Bar before he got his money back. That behavior, the high court said, violates a Supreme Court rule because he failed to refund the money in a timely manner.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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