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Judge recommends 30-day sentence for attorney

Jessica Shumaker//January 21, 2020

Judge recommends 30-day sentence for attorney

Jessica Shumaker//January 21, 2020

A Jackson County judge has recommended that a North Kansas City attorney be found guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced to a month in jail for allegedly continuing to practice after his license was suspended last year.

The ruling — issued on Dec. 19 by Jackson County Associate Circuit Judge Mary Weir — comes in response to a rare motion by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel seeking a criminal contempt finding and sanctions against attorney Allan H. Bell.

Bell has denied OCDC’s allegations. Bell’s attorney, David Bandré of Bandré Hunt Snider in Jefferson City, said he believes the case is one of first impression in terms of attorney discipline and criminal contempt.

OCDC, through its attorney Shannon L. Briesacher, filed the motion in the Missouri Supreme Court last June.

In the filing, OCDC said Bell primarily practiced in the area of immigration law and pursued workers’ compensation settlements. He has practiced law in Missouri since 1967.

After OCDC discovered that Bell did not have and was not using a registered client trust account, the office audited his personal bank account, Briesacher said.

The audit revealed widespread misappropriation of client funds, OCDC alleged, and it filed an information for the interim suspension of Bell’s license. The Missouri Supreme Court suspended his license in April 2019.

OCDC said Bell had 15 days after the Supreme Court suspended his license to wind down his practice.

He was barred from accepting new retainers or acting as a lawyer in any new matter, but in late April, a staff member in his office reported that he was continuing to take money from new clients, OCDC said.

OCDC also said it received additional reports from other people that Bell was continuing to represent new clients.

In May, OCDC filed an information alleging more than 25 instances of identifiable misappropriation of client funds, totaling more than $100,000.

The filing asked the Supreme Court to enter an order requiring Bell to show cause as to why he should not be held in criminal contempt.

In July, the court appointed Weir as a special master in the case. Weir heard evidence during a bench trial in August and October. In December, she filed her findings of fact and conclusions of law — which required 27 pages — in Jackson County Circuit Court.

In her filing, Weir said OCDC met its burden in proving Bell had actual knowledge of the Missouri Supreme Court’s interim-suspension order.

“There is no doubt that the Respondent engaged in the practice of law following his interim suspension, and failed to adhere to the Missouri Supreme Court’s demand that Respondent comply with Rule 5.27,” she said.

Weir said Bell repeatedly entered or attempted to enter into new fee agreements with clients, failed to notify opposing counsel of his suspension and failed to notify his clients of his suspension as required by the rule.

Weir also said Bell’s assertion that he did not willfully engage in misconduct is not credible.

She said the evidence showed Bell was in “substantial debt” through taking out high-interest loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars during the prior year, and that the payments were being withdrawn from his bank account.

“The evidence in this case establishes that Respondent continued taking money from clients, which was comingled with his own funds and used in part to pay these debts, even after his suspension for misappropriating client funds,” she said.

Weir recommended that Bell be found guilty of criminal contempt, serve 30 days in the Jackson County Detention Center and pay a $21,000 fine.

Bandré said Weir’s report is not yet final — he said he has until Jan. 20 to file exceptions, which he plans to do. He said the final report will be filed with the Supreme Court, which will make a ruling.

“I think there’s some issues with the proposed findings of fact,” he said. “I have a number of exceptions that I plan to make to that.”

Bandré said he also plans to challenge the sentencing recommendation. He said it is unclear if Weir has the authority to sentence his client, or if he will be arguing that before her or the Supreme Court.

The case is In Re: Bell, SC97784.

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