Hutchinson attorney Sam S. Kepfield has been suspended from practicing law in Kansas for 18 months. Following suspension, he will be on three-year supervised probation.
The decision issued Friday by the Kansas Supreme Court found misconduct in violation of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct for lack of diligence; terminating the representation of a client; failure in safekeeping property; making a false statement in connection with a disciplinary matter; misconduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or representation; and violating his probation plan by violating the professional rules.
The Office of Disciplinary Administrator had recommended disbarment but a hearing panel favored suspension for six months, followed by probation.
Similarly, the Supreme Court was divided, with a minority agreeing with an indefinite suspension. The top court ended up with a punishment stiffer than the hearing panel’s recommendation. It reinstated a 2015 one-year suspension that had not been imposed in favor of supervised probation and added the six months’ suspension suggested by the hearing panel, to be followed by probation.
Kepfield, 55, was admitted to the practice of law in Kansas in 1989. He declined to comment Friday.
The Supreme Court document used initials for Kepfield’s clients - E.S. and E.M. - who were at the heart of the complaints.
In the case of E.S., just three days before the deadline for E.S.’s counsel to file the petition for a Supreme Court review, Kepfield sent E.S. a letter that he considered his involvement in the case at an end. Ultimately, the petition was not filed.
E.S. earlier had sought to remove Kepfield as an attorney but had been denied by the court. Kepfield was faulted for not filing a motion to withdraw as counsel and for not taking steps to protect the client after representation had been terminated.
Client E.M. had been charged with driving under the influence and had Kepfield as counsel for a driver’s license suspension hearing with the Kansas Department of Revenue, as well as for the DUI case in Hutchinson Municipal Court.
E.M. submitted a filing fee Jan. 30, 2015, but Kepfield did not file the petition for judicial review until Feb. 24, 2015. The Department of Revenue filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the petition was filed out of time, and Kepfield was faulted for not taking action to fight the motion.
E.M. complained about Kepfield’s representation, and an investigator for the Office of Disciplinary Administrator asked Kepfield to account for the retainer paid by E.M. Kepfield informed the investigating attorney he believed he put it in his trust account. More questions about payments and documentation eventually led Kepfield to admit he had not had a trust account since 2011.
Kepfield was criticized for violating his duty to his client to properly deal with his client’s fees and then for violating his duty to properly cooperate with the investigation.
The disciplinary hearing panel noted that Kepfield has suffered from depression and the depression appeared to contribute to his misconduct. Also, clients and friends and lawyers had written letters of support of Kepfield’s character and his reputation as an attorney for providing good representation to an underserved population. The results that he obtained for E.S. and E.M. were good results, the hearing panel noted, and it argued that short suspension was appropriate.
Kepfielld filed no exceptions to the hearing panel’s final hearing report.