The Iowa Supreme Court suspended an Iowa City attorney’s license for six months Friday after he falsified certificates of service to conceal the fact that he didn’t send documents to opposing counsel and then lied about it to a judge.
Jeffrey K. McGinness, also an Iowa City school board member, was representing a plaintiff in a Polk County civil court case in 2012 when he falsified a certificate of service for requested discovery documents, according to the ruling.
According to the ruling, it was five days before a deposition in the case when McGinness realized the defendant didn’t have the documents, so he emailed the documents and the certificate dated March 21, 2012. He fabricated the certificate by photocopying an old certificate of service from his response to the defendant's attorney’s discovery requests in the same case.
The defendant’s attorney questioned the certificates and discovered they had been created in June 2012, according to the ruling. McGinness didn’t confess but embellished his claim. He said he remembered preparing them but didn’t sign them. His secretary usually does that but she didn’t remember this one in particular.
The defendant’s attorney filed a motion for sanctions in district court and McGinness again continued to lie about the certificate. He even hired an expert to determine if the signatures on the March certificate matched the one signed in June. He told the court the expert found the signatures were not identical.
The district court didn’t believe his “elaborate deceit,” sanctioning him according to the rules of civil procedure and ordered him to pay $5,152 to defendant’s attorney and $2,348 to the Iowa Judicial Branch, according to the ruling.
“McGinness’s behavior is so shocking and egregious that it is hard to even know what to say about it,” a district court judge stated. “It is deeply disappointing to find that a member of the bar has engaged in such elaborate, calculated and premeditated deceit.”
After the district court ruling, McGinness disclosed his conduct to his law firm and he withdrew from the firm and began a solo practice in Iowa City. He also admitted in a letter to the disciplinary board of his misconduct and expressed remorse. There was also a hearing before the court's grievance commission which found McGinness violated the rules of professional conduct and recommended the six month suspension. McGinness also appealed the commission's recommendation, arguing for a three month suspension.
According to the ruling, the court found the six months was appropriate in this case.“Our citizens generally, and this court particularly, rely upon the honesty and integrity of lawyers to ensure the fair operation of our adversary system of justice, according to the ruling. “In the arena of civil discovery, the honesty of lawyers in an essential component.”