JEFFERSON CITY — Ozark attorney Scott C. Hinote's law license has been indefinitely suspended by the Missouri Supreme Court after it found that he had commingled personal and client funds in both his operating and trust accounts.
The high court's Nov. 22 order followed an investigation by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC), which found that Hinote had deposited personal funds in his trust account to pay client refunds, deposited most client funds into his operating account and then used them for personal or business expenses before he performed meaningful work for them, failed to keep adequate ledgers of his trust account and practiced law for several months after the bank closed his trust account.
The OCDC's investigator Kelly Dillon testified at a hearing that nearly all of Hinote's client funds during the period reviewed were deposited directly into
his operating account instead of his trust account.
She also testified that client funds in Hinote’s operating account were often
depleted before he earned the fees by performing any meaningful work for the
client and that Hinote frequently used client funds to pay his personal or business
"Specifically...a deposit of $6,000 was made into
Respondent’s operating account on July 25, 2013," Dillon wrote. "Within five days, the operating account was overdrawn."
The client's case in that instance was not filed until weeks later "at which time no client funds remained," Dillon wrote.
During the period in which he was being investigated for the trust account overdrafts, Hinote had two unrelated disciplinary complaints pending against him.
Hinote was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and must complete a court-approved course on trust fund management and the handling of unearned fees before being considered for reinstatement. The order further states that he cannot petition for reinstatement any earlier than six months from the date of the order, which would mean no earlier than May 22.
In Hinote's response brief to the discipline board, he argued that he is a "poor bookkeeper and perhaps a poor businessman."
He had pleaded for probation and education as an "appropriate" sanction.
"Respondent's actions were not misleading or deceitful and/or dishonest, nor did any client make a complaint as to the present accusation of the respondent," Hinote wrote.
Court records show that during its investigation, the chief disciplinary counsel’s office had received complaints from two of Hinote’s clients, but those two clients chose not to participate in the investigation.
Hinote wrote in his brief that he acknowledges a duty to "become better" at bookkeeping and business.
"He cares greatly however for his clients and performs his legal duties for them quite successfully," Hinote wrote in his response brief. "Respondent cares even more for his wife and child and tries to balance off these separate worlds but naturally comes up short on both sides at times. Respondent implores this Court to not implement the suspension as requested by the lower panel but rather a probationary period with the further education."