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10-10-2014

LOCAL ATTORNEY
LOSES LAW LICENSE

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

An attorney based in Platte City has had his license to practice law suspended by the Missouri Supreme Court.

In a profession where it is commonplace to replicate the words of another and to follow the basic principle “to stand by that which is decided” or in layman's terms—previous decisions should be followed in court—outsiders may wonder what one could possibly do wrong in such a profession to lose the privilege of the job.

After 35 years of service, a well-known Platte City attorney recently found an answer to that hypothetical question. Lyle Odo, a solo legal practitioner whose office is on Main Street, has lost his license to practice law indefinitely in the state of Missouri.

The ruling was handed down by the Supreme Court of Missouri last Tuesday, Sept. 30.

After hearing all evidence of alleged misconduct, the court ordered Odo to pay a fee and barred Odo from seeking remedial relief for reinstatement for a period of one year.

Odo this week told The Landmark he will petition for reinstatement of his license “at the appropriate time.”

According to the court’s order, Odo violated seven rules of professional conduct while representing a client on a number of legal matters from December 2009 to May 2011.

The court says at least one violation was retaliatory in nature and occurred after the client fired Odo as his attorney.

This was not the first time Odo faced disciplinary action by the court. Odo was reprimanded in 2004 and urged to review the rules of professional conduct.

Conflict of Interest and Predatory Lending Practices

Despite the previous warning, Odo took part in behavior deemed unacceptable by the legal community while representing a client on a vehicular injury claim.

The misconduct occurred shortly after Dec. 2, 2009 when Chad Morrison signed a retainer and officially hired Lyle Odo to handle a personal injury claim arising from injuries Morrison suffered during a car accident.

Court documents reveal that Odo prepared 16 loan transactions in the aggregate amount of $28,450 for his client over the course of their attorney-client relationship. The loans were distributed by Odo, who manages the lending company, known as Kristen Nicole Properties, Inc. The lending company, named after Odo's daughter, is located inside Odo's law office at 249 Main Street.

Alan Pratzel, Chief Disciplinary Counsel, contends Odo acted as both a lender and borrower during the 16 loan transactions.

According to testimony given by Morrison, Odo went through the terms of the loan documents as if he was serving as his attorney. Acting alone and without caution, the court says Odo proceeded to carry out the loan transactions and later adversely enforced the terms of the loan agreement against Morrison while Odo represented him during the course of the personal injury lawsuit, thereby simultaneously serving as an attorney of the lending company and an attorney representing the borrower.

Another concern raise by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel is that the loans were secured with the presumed settlement from the personal injury case, which Odo was concurrently representing.

Chief Disciplinary Counsel argued that a lien secured by a security interest arising from a personal injury claim is prohibited in the state of Missouri.

“A personal injury claim is not a commodity. Missouri has never allowed individuals to sell their personal injury claims to the highest bidder. The commercial exploitation of a person's pain and suffering for the pecuniary gain of another is offensive to the public policy of this state,” states a brief filed by Alan Pratzel, Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

Chief Disciplinary Counsel also blasted the conditions of the loan agreement, calling Odo’s lending practices not only abusive but “predatory and exploitive.”

The terms of the loan agreements set the first month's interest at 180 percent and each month afterward at an interest rate of 38 percent. Over the course of time, Odo charged Morrison more than $6,700 in interest and loan processing fees.

“The terms of the loan agreement were unduly burdensome, unfair and unreasonable to the client,” states the brief.

Odo, referred to as the respondent in the legal brief, used the client's vulnerability for personal gain, states the legal brief.

“Respondent used his superior knowledge, experience and legal skills to take advantage of a client with catastrophic injuries.”

In response to the allegations of misconduct, Odo's attorney, David Larson with Martin, Pringle, Oliver, Wallace & Bauer, LLP, explained that the legal profession allows attorneys the privilege to serve in different capacities.

“It is a well-established legal principle in Missouri that one individual may wear multiple 'legal hats,' i.e., have separate legal capacities, each of which may impose different duties and obligations,” states a legal brief dated June 10.

The Chief Disciplinary Counsel argued that Odo simply couldn't keep up with all the many hats he wore. Evidence supporting this fact, he indicates, was a letter Odo allegedly sent to Morrison regarding his loan balance, bearing law firm letterhead. On another occasion, Odo provided his client a lending document on Kristen Nicole Properties (KNP) letterhead listing Odo as president of KNP.

Paid Medical Bills

The Supreme Court of Missouri also found Odo violated Rule 4-1.8(e) of the Professional Code of Conduct while representing Morrison.

Evidence presented by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel revealed Odo paid out of pocket medical related expenses for Morrison.

On two separate occasions, Odo paid a physician $500 for an epidural treatment to relieve Morrison's pain. Additionally, Odo paid $4,049 for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a prescribed medication for Morrison.

“An attorney is permitted to advance the costs of medical evaluation as an expense of litigation to ensure the client has access to the courts,” states the legal brief. “However, an attorney may not pay for the costs of the client's medical treatment.”

During a 16-month period, Odo was paying loan proceeds to Morrison to cover living expenses and child support payments. Odo made a total of 16 payments to Morrison.

“These 16 payments, totaling approximately $25,875, provided financial assistance to Mr. Morrison in violation of Rule 4-1.8(e),” states the legal brief.

Disregard of Personal Information

In a letter dated May 10, 2011, Morrison terminated the attorney-client relationship by firing his attorney, Lyle Odo. A week later, Odo filed a petition in the Sixth Circuit Court against his former client seeking to collect attorney fees for billable hours spent on Morrison's legal needs.

Court documents state the petition was “available at the courthouse for unrestricted public viewing” and contained confidential information.

After reviewing the subject matter, a disciplinary hearing panel determined documents contained in the petition had “potentially sensitive” information arising from the legal representation Odo provided his client.

“The petition contained numerous allegations and several exhibits detailing private, personal and confidential information about Morrison, largely including information obtained by (Odo) during the course of the attorney-client relationship,” states a brief filed by Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

Conflict of Interest

Shortly after Odo was fired by Morrison, Odo filed a lawsuit on behalf of Kristen Nicole Properties to collect the outstanding balance on the 16 loan agreements. Chief Disciplinary Counsel argues this was a blatant violation of Rule 4-1.9, forbidding a licensed attorney from adversely representing a client in a legal matter against a former client on “substantially” related litigation.

“There was an ever-present risk that some $20,000 in outstanding loans could interfere with the progress of settlement of Morrison's injury claim, initially valued at $1 million by respondent,” states court documents.

Although several loans matured, Odo's testimony revealed he acted vengefully when he sent Morrison a collection notice simply because he had been fired.

“Respondent wasted very little time in taking deliberate, vindictive and retaliatory actions against his former client,” states the legal brief filed April 8, 2014.

Odo's attorney argued Kristen Nicole is the “actual owner” of KNP.

“The record here is absolutely clear that respondent, while managing KNP, does not own any shares in the company, is not paid by the company for any services he performs, and receives no financial benefits from KNP,” states a legal brief date June 10.

The Chief Disciplinary Council argued that a preponderance of the evidence reveals that rather than his loosely associated daughter, Odo was the “only person with an actual specific interest in obtaining full repayment of the 16 loans.”

The court also viewed Odo's legal representation of Dr. Theresa Febbo, a chiropractor who took legal action against Morrison to collect accrued medical bills, as a conflict of interest. Odo allegedly harassed Morrison inside a courthouse while representing Dr. Febbo.

The brief argued Odo could have received more than $68,000 in legal fees associated with Morrison's injury claim. When his services were terminated by Morrison, Odo received a fraction of the monetary gain. This may have been the aggravating trigger for the retaliatory nature of Odo's actions.

“Respondent puts the public at risk with respect to the failure to properly address conflicts of interest and the retaliation against those clients who may 'profoundly disappoint' him in the future,” states the legal brief. “Respondent is not fit to continue (to) have the privilege to practice law in the State of Missouri. Sadly, there are times when lawyers 'just don't get it,” This is one of those times. Respondent should be given an opportunity to reflect upon his conduct and the stringent nature of his fiduciary responsibilities towards a client before he is allowed to resume the practice (of) law in this state,” the court ruled.

Course of Action

When asked under oath whether Odo was remorseful for his actions, Odo replied, “As I sit here today, no, sir.”

Chief Disciplinary Counsel drew attention to Odo's inability to express any genuine remorse, sharply indicating his lack of accountability was a weakness.

He also criticized Odo for attempting to withhold the allegations of his misconduct from his friends in the legal community, who testified on his behalf.

“None of the persons who testified in support of respondent had any idea of respondent's knowing and repeated entries into the minefield of engaging in business transactions with clients, his abusive lending practices, his inability to refrain from engaging in representations of one client against another, and Respondent's disloyalty and lack of professional decorum exhibited towards a former client,” states the brief.

In response to Odo's misconduct, the highest court in the state suspended his license to practice indefinitely.

Odo can petition the court to reinstate his law license after one year.

Reaction from Odo

On Monday, The Landmark reached Odo at his office to ask his reaction to the ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court. He responded later that same day with a written statement:

“I took an oath to abide by the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct. The Missouri Supreme Court found that I violated those rules and suspended my license to practice law. The court suspended my license indefinitely. No petition for reinstatement will be entertained for a period of one year. At the appropriate time I shall petition for reinstatement,” Odo said in his written remarks.