The Missouri Supreme Court is determining whether former state representative Elbert Walton violated rules of professional responsibility as a lawyer in a in a bankruptcy court case. Oral arguments were presented before the high bench Wednesday.
In 2014, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled Walton and another attorney, James Robinson, egregiously violated rules and obstructed discovery in a case involving LaToya Steward.
Attorney Alan Pratzel, representing the state’s Chief Disciplinary Council before the Supreme Court, argued that Walton, Robinson and Robinson’s firm – Critique Services – were dishonest and unscrupulous.
“This entire case boiled down to these two attorneys doing whatever they had to do, to avoid disclosing to the bankruptcy court, and to Ms. Steward’s counsel, whatever the relationship was between Critique services, this corrupt entity, that did nothing but prey on the vulnerable” said Pratzel.
Steward had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the Federal Bankruptcy Court of Eastern Missouri in 2010.
In a document filed in 2013, she described many grievances in her dealings with Critique Services and Robinson, including how documentation verifying her participation in a mandatory class had been lost, as had her pay stubs. Steward retained a new attorney and sought discovery from Robinson.
Walton then entered the case on behalf of Robinson and Critique. After determining discovery response from the two attorneys was “grossly insufficient”, the bankruptcy court judge imposed sanctions totaling $49,000 and barred from both attorneys from practicing in its courtroom for a year.
The bankruptcy court also notified the federal district court and the state Chief Disciplinary Council. The federal district court then began disciplinary action against both Robinson and Walton, but subsequently stayed those proceedings when the Chief Disciplinary Council filed action with the state Supreme Court.
The council’s Pratzel argued Tuesday that both Walton and Robinson deserve an 18 month suspension from practicing law in any state court because of numerous flagrant violations.
“There’s a pattern of misconduct” said Pratzel. “Clearly when you review the judge’s order, there’s many violations all constituting a pattern of misconduct. There are multiple offenses.”
Walton and Robinson deny the allegations and contend the Chief Disciplinary Council should have conducted its own investigation, giving them hearings. They further contend the bankruptcy court, since it doesn’t license attorneys to practice in its room, cannot discipline them.
Arguing on behalf of Walton Wednesday, attorney Bernard Edwards said the sanctions imposed by the bankruptcy court don’t establish a judgement of guilt. “The sanctions in bankruptcy court just are not equal to professional misconduct.”
In keeping with its normal procedure, The Supreme Court did not rule in the case Wednesday.
Before being suspended by the bankruptcy court, Walton had been fired as attorney for a fire district in St. Louis County after accusation he mismanaged taxpayer funds. He served as a state representative for over a decade.