JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Supreme Court recently suspended Sedalia attorney R. Scott Gardner who was working on an estate and requested a payment for a fee against a circuit court order.
Justice Laura Stith issued a 24-page ruling on Jan. 15 in the disciplinary action against Gardner, suspending Gardner from practicing law indefinitely with no leave to apply for reinstatement for six months. Gardner was also placed in probation for a year.
As stated in the ruling, "in 2014, Mr. Gardner was appointed as personal representative for the estate of Ethel M. Hall, which was pending in the probate division of the Pettis County Circuit Court."
While the estate was under supervised administration, Gardner filed a motion on Feb. 18, 2015, requesting a fee payment in the amount of $30,070, but the motion was denied by the circuit court, which stated that the amount exceeded legal limits and that payment upon completion of the estate should be preserved as an incentive.
Later that day, the court allowed Gardner to be paid $15,000.
On Jun. 25, 2015, Gardner wrote himself a check for $15,466, which would have been the remainder of the fee in case he completed the estate.
"Despite the circuit court’s prior order stating the final calculation of the remainder of Mr. Gardner’s fee would occur 'at the close of the estate,' Mr. Gardner did not file a final settlement or otherwise seek to close the estate at the time he paid himself the remainder of his fee. Neither did he file a written motion asking for approval of early payment of the remainder of his fee," the ruling said.
After the final settlement for the estate was filed, the lower court, per the ruling, "discovered the advance payment and ordered Mr. Gardner to appear on September 15, 2015, to show cause why he should not be held in contempt and removed as personal representative in light of his early advance payment to himself without court permission and in violation of the court’s order."
Two years later, after other filings in the estate, the office of chief disciplinary counsel filed an information claiming that Gardner had committed professional misconduct during the course of the estate.
A disciplinary committee recommended a suspension with a no leave to apply for reinstatement for six months.
In her ruling, Stith said Gardner acted "in part knowing and in part negligent," adding that "in
keeping with the principle the discipline will match the most serious misconduct, this conduct considered alone would merit suspension as the presumptive result for these violations."