The Missouri Supreme Court has ordered jail and a fine for a North Kansas City attorney after finding him in criminal contempt for continuing to practice law after he was suspended in 2019.
The court issued its judgment on June 23, following a criminal contempt proceeding for Allan H. Bell. The court ordered Bell to serve 30 days in the Cole County jail.
The court also ordered Bell to pay a $21,000 fine, an amount equal to the minimum amount of fees he is known to have collected after the court suspended his license in April 2019.
His attorney, David G. Bandré of Bandré Hunt Snider in Jefferson City, said Bell was not immediately jailed because he was hospitalized for a heart surgery.
Bandré said the judgment against his client highlights the concerns of the court and the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel with regard to the allegations of practicing law without a license, but he is concerned about how it will affect his client’s health.
“Personally, I think it’s a very harsh sentence for someone of his age and health,” he said of Bell, who is in his late 70s. Bell has practiced in Missouri since 1967, according to court records.
In April 2019, the court suspended Bell’s law license after OCDC discovered he was not using a registered client trust account and OCDC audited his personal bank account.
In June 2019, OCDC filed a motion for criminal contempt alleging Bell was willfully disobeying the suspension order by continuing to practice law and engaging in deceptive practices to hide his violations of the court’s suspension order.
A court-appointed special master later found Bell was aware of the suspension order but continued to meet with clients and accept fees to perform legal work after order, the judgment said.
“Mr. Bell actively attempted to conceal such behavior by backdating agreements and fee receipts,” Chief Justice George W. Draper III wrote.
Also, Bell never complied with suspension procedures outlined in Supreme Court Rule 5.27, which governs the withdrawal process for disciplined attorneys, and he frustrated any attempts by trustees and OCDC investigators to ensure he had complied, Draper said.
The court did not accept Bell’s argument that his behavior was not intentional or knowing because of “serious cognitive deficiencies.” Draper pointed to the record, which included an opinion from a neuropsychologist that any memory impairment Bell might be experiencing would not prevent him from remembering or comprehending his suspension.
Draper also noted the special master’s finding that Bell’s actions “were not [those] of a confused lawyer [but] rather one acting in a knowing, intelligent and deceptive manner.”
“The Court finds that Mr. Bell intentionally interfered with the judicial process when he refused to be bound by this Court’s suspension order,” the chief justice said.
The case is In re: Bell, SC97784.
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