Misappropriation is a severe violation of the rules. The presumptive sanction is disbarment. Here, Mr. Grimes’ dishonesty and refusal to acknowledge his wrongdoing outweigh any mitigating circumstances. —Justice Jill Parrish
SALT LAKE CITY — An attorney for a man accused of killing an Ogden police officer has been disbarred.
Jonathon W. Grimes, who became a member of the Utah State Bar in 2005, was disbarred Tuesday in a ruling handed down by the Utah Supreme Court. The incident that led to the sanction involves allegations of misappropriation of client funds that took place between 2005 and 2007.
Grimes is one of at least four attorneys representing Matthew David Stewart, who is facing capital murder and other charges in d Jan. 4 shootout at his Ogden home. Ogden police officer Jared Francom was killed during the incident and five other members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot and injured.
The incident that led to Grimes' disbarment was unrelated to the Stewart case.
Grimes said he has contacted attorney Randall Richards, who is the lead attorney on the Stewart case, and is willing to do whatever work he can still do on the case. He said he is skilled in legal research and writing.
"If there's anything I can do, I'm happy to do it," he said.
Richards could not be reached for comment Wednesday. It is unclear what impact, if any, the ruling could have on the case.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, Grimes was hired to pursue an employment discrimination claim and a $10,000 retainer was placed into a law firm trust account. When Grimes left the law firm, he took the case — and the $7,070 remaining in the retainer — with him.
Grimes apparently stopped communicating with his client and never told his client when the case was later dismissed. When the man repeatedly asked that what remained of his retainer be returned, "Mr Grimes initially denied having the retainer and later refused to return it," the ruling states.
The man filed a complaint with the Utah State Bar's Office of Professional Conduct. Grimes failed to respond, and a formal complaint was filed alleging that Grimes violated eight of the rules of professional conduct.
The district court held a sanctions hearing and determined that Grimes "failed to be diligent, communicative and honest in his representation." It also found that Grimes knew the $7,070 was the unearned retainer, but still deposited it into his personal account and spent the money.
The district court suspended Grimes for three years but stayed all but 181 days of the suspension. The Office of Professional Conduct appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which found that the aggravating factors of Grimes' actions outweighed the mitigating factors he presented, including no prior disciplinary record and his "emotional and personal problems."
"Misappropriation is a severe violation of the rules. The presumptive sanction is disbarment," Justice Jill Parrish wrote in the unanimous ruling. "Here, Mr. Grimes’ dishonesty and refusal to acknowledge his wrongdoing outweigh any mitigating circumstances."
The state's high court said Grimes could apply for readmission to the bar in five years. The 181 days he was suspended will be credited toward those five years.
Grimes said Wednesday that the ruling came as a surprise, but that he respects the authority of the court.
"The Supreme Court is in charge in all matters of attorney discipline and how they decide to do it is how they decide to do it," he said. "There's no value in me wasting time arguing about it."
Grimes said he is working to ensure that all of the cases he is currently working on are handed to over to "competent folks in the community." He declined to dispute any of the facts in the ruling.
"When the highest court speaks, that is the truth," Grimes said. "Regardless of what my memory of the past may be."