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Unmoved by attorney’s mental health claims, court orders disbarment

Jessica Shumaker//January 20, 2021

Unmoved by attorney’s mental health claims, court orders disbarment

Jessica Shumaker//January 20, 2021

The Missouri Supreme Court has disbarred a St. Louis attorney who admitted to misappropriating client funds, declining to find his mental health issues a mitigating factor in his case. 

The attorney, Eric F. Kayira, had been licensed to practice law in Missouri since 2000. In a 19-page opinion — a relative rarity for the court — Judge Laura Denvir Stith said the parties agreed that during an approximately five-year period, Kayira repeatedly failed to notify clients he had received funds belonging to them.

Kayira also engaged in a pattern of depleting his clients’ funds — frequently to make payments owed to other clients — and misappropriated client funds to pay for personal and firm expenses, Stith said in the opinion. The baseline sanction for such conduct, which was recommended by both the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the disciplinary hearing panel, is disbarment, Stith said. 

Before the court, Kayira argued that unusual circumstances in his case warranted an indefinite suspension. 

Kayira asserted that at the time of the conduct in question, he had serious personal problems, including alcohol abuse and depression. Stith said he did not provide any medical support to substantiate those claims. 

The disciplinary hearing panel considered the information he presented but did not find it mitigated his conduct, she said. 

Kayira also argued that the disciplinary hearing panel was unaware he suffered from bipolar disorder because he did not discover it himself until after his disciplinary hearing. Court Rule 5.285 did not permit him to raise it as a basis for mitigation after he had filed his answer in the case, he said. 

He argued that, had he been able to raise that point, a lesser sanction would have resulted, relying on the 2008 Missouri Supreme Court case In re: Belz. 

Stith, however, said Kayira was incorrect. She noted that he offered no medical evidence to support his claim of a mental disorder and that Court Rule 5.285(b) allows an attorney to raise the issue of a mental disorder out of time if good cause is shown. 

“Not only did Mr. Kayira fail to provide any proof of good cause, he failed to even seek permission to raise this defense or offer any evidence in support of it,” she said. “Finally, unlike in Belz, he did not show additional mitigating factors such as self-reporting and voluntary restitution before the information was filed.”

Stith said the court considered Kayira’s emotional and personal problems and other mitigating factors, but it was not persuaded to reduce the sanction against him. 

“This Court has long said, ‘To disbar an attorney, it must be clear that the attorney is not fit to continue in the profession; disbarment is reserved only for clear cases of severe misconduct’ . . .  This is such a case,” she said. 

Judges Paul C. Wilson, Mary R. Russell, W. Brent Powell, Patricia Breckenridge and Zel M. Fischer agreed. Chief Justice George W. Draper III did not participate in the case. 

Michael Downey of the Downey Law Group in St. Louis represented Kayira. He declined to comment. 

The case was In re: Kayira, SC98531. 

RELATED: Trust account violations cited in discipline case

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