Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Attorney disbarments increase, reinstatements decrease in 2019

Jessica Shumaker//December 30, 2019

Attorney disbarments increase, reinstatements decrease in 2019

Jessica Shumaker//December 30, 2019

The Missouri Supreme Court issued fewer disciplinary orders in 2019 compared to the previous year, but the total rate of attorneys who were disbarred, suspended or placed on probation remained roughly the same.

In 2019, the court disbarred five more attorneys than it did in 2018 — 21 were disbarred in 2019, while 16 were disbarred in 2018.

The court issued 20 suspensions in 2019, compared to 21 in 2018. It also placed 11 attorneys on probation, up two from 2018.

Only one attorney was reprimanded, down from seven the previous year.

The largest difference between 2018 and 2019 involved the number of attorneys reinstated. This year, 16 attorneys saw their licenses reinstated — 11 fewer than the 2018 total of 27.

Here are some of the more noteworthy cases from the past year:

Shayne W. Healea

On Jan. 29, the court suspended the law license of former Moniteau County Prosecuting Attorney Shayne W. Healea for at least six months after he pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree assault and one count of driving while intoxicated.

The counts stemmed from a crash in Columbia in 2014 in which four people were injured.

Healea initially was sentenced to a year in the county jail for each of the assault charges and six months for the DWI charge, but the judge entered a suspended imposition of sentence and instead placed Healea on probation for two years.

Healea’s license was reinstated by the high court on Oct. 15.

Susan “Liz” Van Note

On March 22, the court ordered a default disbarment for Susan “Liz” Van Note after she failed to timely respond to an information filed by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

A Laclede County jury previously acquitted Van Note in 2017 on charges that she killed her father and his girlfriend in 2010 at the Lake of the Ozarks.

In September 2018, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel filed an information against Van Note. OCDC alleged there was probable cause to believe she violated an ethics rule against dishonesty, fraud and deceit in connection with her handling of her father’s end-of-life documents.

Michael D. Sanders and Steve Stenger

This year, the former top leaders of the state’s two largest counties were disbarred after they pleaded guilty to federal charges.

On March 5, the court disbarred former Jackson County Executive Michael D. Sanders. In January 2018, he pleaded guilty to misusing campaign-committee funds while he was in office. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

On May 28, the court disbarred former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. Earlier that month, he pleaded guilty to trading political favors for campaign contributions. He was indicted on federal charges of bribery, mail fraud and theft of honest services on April 29 and quickly resigned his seat as the head of the largest county in the state.

Stenger was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

In July, the court also disbarred William L. Miller Jr., Stenger’s former chief of staff. Miller pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Stenger’s scheme by taking official action to ensure that a company and its owner obtained a 2019 state lobbying contract worth about $200,000 in exchange for campaign donations and fundraising activities. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Jerome “Jerry” Dobson

Jerome “Jerry” Dobson, managing partner of Dobson, Goldberg, Berns & Rich in St. Louis, was the only Missouri attorney to be reprimanded by the court this year.

In a June 4 order, the court found he violated an ethics rule that prohibits lawyers from communicating with someone they know to be represented by counsel in a matter without that counsel’s consent.

OCDC sought to discipline Dobson after he sent a letter to personnel at Washington University in St. Louis in a matter involving a university doctor. The university Office of General Counsel objected to him directly communicating with university employees.

Dobson argued that his actions were justified because his client risked damage to his career if he did not act. He said he faced the choice of acting immediately to protect the client’s interests or communicating with the general counsel and risking an untimely response.

Dobson’s case also was unusual in that the disciplinary hearing panel that heard his case recommended that it be dismissed. OCDC disagreed with that recommendation, triggering a Supreme Court review.

Katherine Anne Dierdorf and Ambry Nichole Schuessler

The court on Aug. 13 suspended the licenses of two former St. Louis assistant circuit attorneys in connection with a 2014 scandal resulting from a St. Louis Metropolitan Police detective’s assault on a suspect in custody.

The court ordered that Katherine Anne Dierdorf’s license be suspended for at least three years, and that Ambry Nichole Schuessler’s license be suspended for at least two years.

Their cases followed the 2016 disbarment of Bliss Barber Worrell, another assistant circuit attorney who was friends with the detective and learned about the assault from him. She later admitted to concealing the assault from supervisors and from a bond judge when she charged the arrested man with attempted escape the following day.

The court ruled that Dierdorf not only knew about the false charges and failed to report them but also lied when questioned by her supervisors, police internal affairs investigators and the FBI.

The court also held that Schuessler “made repeated lies and omissions” when questioned during an investigation into the assault and, upon learning of the detective’s conduct, made a “racist and homophobic” comment.

Latest Opinion Digests

See all digests

Top stories

See more news