The law license of a former judge and attorney practicing law in Southeast Arkansas has been suspended for three years.
A Supreme Court panel on professional conduct suspended Kenneth Harper’s license for 36 months and ordered him to pay restitution totaling more than $5,000 to five clients he effectively abandoned.
Fountain Hill Client
In July 2012, a Fountain Hill man hired Harper to file a lawsuit on his behalf against an individual who failed to meet the terms of a contract in an automobile sale. Harper filed the lawsuit the same month.
The man said he had little contact with Harper but did receive notice of a December 10, 2012 court date that had been set for lawsuit. The man appeared in court on that date but Harper was not there.
Unbeknownst to his client, Harper had filed a motion for continuance.
After court, the man called Harper’s office telephone number but the telephone service had been disconnected. He also called Harper’s personal cell phone number and left a message. He never heard from Harper.
In August 2012, Harper agreed to represent a Hampton man in a lawsuit concerning a property issue in Bradley County. After the man paid Harper $750, Harper filed an answer to the lawsuit with the Bradley County Circuit Clerk but did not provide the man with a copy.
The man attempted to contact Harper at his office concerning the status of his legal matter. At some point, the telephone service to Harper’s law office was disconnected.
The man wrote Harper and informed him that he did not want Harper to represent him any further in the legal matter, requested that Harper refund $650 of the $750 fee he paid, and return all documents that Harper had been provided. Harper did not comply with the November 2012 request for the documents and fee refund.
Chicot County Client
In September 2012, Harper agreed to represent a Chicot County man in a domestic relations case involving the custody of his son. After the man made the last payment on the $750 fee he was quoted, he was unable to reach Harper.
The telephone numbers to Harper’s office were disconnected, the office was empty and Harper did not respond to the man’s emails.
Records from the Chicot County Circuit Clerk’s office show that as of March 22, 2013, there had been no post-divorce activity initiated in the man’s legal matter by Harper.
In October 2012, the father of a University of Arkansas at Monticello student hired Harper to pursue a civil matter against either the person responsible for attacking his son or the police agency that arrested him following the attack.
After Harper received the $500 legal fee, the man’s son attempted to contact Harper but the telephone numbers he had been provided had been disconnected, no longer in service, or directed to voice mail where messages were not returned.
In December 2011, a Gould woman hired Harper to represent her daughter’s interest in a probate matter. She signed over to Harper a $10,000 check from an insurance company and Harper wrote her a check for $8,500 from his IOLTA trust account. He kept $1,500 for his fee.
From January 2012, until November 2012, the woman went to Harper’s office on numerous occasions to get information about the probate matter. She said Harper would not tell her the truth about the status of the estate. She said she also went to the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk’s office and asked if anything had been filed on her or her daughter’s behalf by Harper in the estate case. Nothing had been filed.
In December 2012, the woman got Harper to agree to refund the $1,500 plus the $50 initial consultation fee she had paid him. She said Harper told her he had been experiencing difficulties so she agreed to allow Harper pay the amount he owed by the week or month but she wanted something in writing. Harper wrote out a document entitled “Statement of Debt” but never repaid any of the money he admitted he owed.
In February 2013, the woman filed suit against Harper in Star City District Court. Harper failed to respond to the lawsuit. In April 2013, the Star City District Court entered a default judgment against Harper in the amount of $1,550 plus $130 in court costs.
Harper’s response was the same in each case.
According to the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, Harper admitted that he agreed to represent all five clients in their legal matters but when he took on those cases he had the ability to timely handle the matter. He said in November 2012 he suffered a broken right hip which required surgery and post-hospital recovery which prevented him from practicing law.
Harper said when he returned to his office, he discovered that his staff had left and his utilities had been cut off. He said he was out of his office for over 100 days without any income and during that time his bookkeeper had overdrawn his business account.
Harper said that these were not a matters of professional negligence but a case where his professional duties were disrupted by a major life-changing, personal injury.