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Two family law attorneys admit to, apologize for rule violations

Two Riverside attorneys admitted to violating ethics rules in the midst of a contentious child-custody dispute and apologized for conduct that previously led a Clay County judge to order $100,000 in sanctions against them.

At their joint disciplinary-panel hearing June 11 at Dollar, Burns & Becker in Kansas City, Patrick M. Davis and Mandee Pingel of the family law firm Davis, Pingel & Associates apologized for their actions. Both attorneys recounted — at times tearfully — the effects the case has had on their lives and practice.

They also pointed to what they’ve learned from the child-custody case and the ensuing disciplinary process, including the importance of de-escalating tensions between opposing parties and not allowing their attachment to their client to cloud their judgment.

The two face possible suspension for their role in Francis v. Wieland, a Clay County Circuit case in which they represented a mother seeking custody of her child, a young boy with serious mental health issues.

In 2016, Judge David P. Chamberlain entered the $100,000 sanctions order against them for their actions in that case, which later was incorporated into the subsequent disciplinary case. Davis and Pingel appealed the sanctions judgment twice to the Western District Court of Appeals, which upheld it on its second trip to the court in June 2018.

The Francis case wrapped up in January 2018, but by the end of that year, complaints initiated by OCDC resulted in the filing of charging documents against Davis and Pingel.

In those filings, OCDC alleged last November that Davis and Pingel showed a pattern of professional misconduct and litigation abuse in the case.

Their allegations, to which the two partners admitted, included:

Filing a post-trial request for judicial findings which contained 2,265 individually numbered paragraphs, including incomplete sentences.

  • Scheduling a deposition of an expert witness on a Saturday in violation of a court order prohibiting such depositions without the consent of opposing counsel.
  • Sending a 44-page letter ex parte to an opposing party’s expert witness.
  • Receiving more than $400,000 in attorney fees for a custody-modification case.

Both Davis and Pingel read from remorse statements at the hearing. In her statement, Pingel said she regrets her actions and wished she’d handled the case differently. She said her actions in the case have affected her deeply — including missing her child’s first dance recital and other key moments in her children’s lives.

Pingel also said she went to law school to make a difference in the world and to right wrongs.

“This process has taught me about all the competing ethical duties [the profession] requires,” she said. “I’m hopeful for an opportunity to make amends and pay my debt to society.”

Davis said he was embarrassed to be sitting before the hearing panel. Part of being a professional is accepting responsibility for one’s actions, as well as changing course going forward, he said.

“Both attorney Pingel and I have evaluated our practice every single day since [the sanctions judgment],” he said. “There is not a day where we didn’t talk about what we could do better.”

Jill Kanatzar of Dollar, Burns & Becker was the presiding officer in the case. Charlie J. Harris Jr. of Seyferth Blumenthal & Harris in Kansas City and Kirby Upjohn, a member of the public, also served on the panel.   

Pingel and Davis are represented by Daniel Church of Morrow Willnauer Church. Kevin J. Odrowski represented OCDC.

Odrowski asked the panel to suspend the partners’ licenses for at least a year at minimum. Church said a suspension would be “draconian” and a reprimand would be more appropriate.

One area of dispute that remains in the case, Church noted, was whether the two also violated rules in attempting to compel discovery from the guardian ad litem in the case. Church said the issue is murky under Missouri law. Pingel noted the guardian’s role as a quasi-party to the case.

The panel did not make an immediate ruling for the attorneys at the conclusion of the hearing.

Davis has been a licensed attorney in Missouri for 31 years. Pingel has been an attorney for 14 years. Davis has had three prior admonitions, while Pingel has had one.

The cases are In Re: Patrick M. Davis, DHP 18-022, and In Re: Mandee Pingel, DHP 18-023.