Scales of Justice

A Billings attorney who has twice been suspended by the Montana Supreme Court is under investigation again for misconduct.

Brian Kohn has been accused of six violations of professional misconduct, including committing criminal perjury or false swearing and failing to return unearned fees to a client.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the state’s attorney watchdog, filed against Kohn in April and held a formal hearing in October. There is no deadline for a finding on the complaint, which will be made by the Commission on Practice, a body appointed by the Supreme Court.

The complaint stems from Kohn’s representation of William Beeman, a Billings resident who approached the lawyer in 2014 to handle his divorce. Beeman later asked Kohn to represent him on a criminal case after he was charged with assault.

Kohn took on the criminal case in the middle of his second misconduct investigation.

In the divorce case, Kohn failed to resume proceedings after Beeman asked. Beeman had reconciled with his wife for a period, during which he asked the attorney to put the divorce on hold, later deciding to proceed with the separation and instructing his lawyer accordingly.

But Kohn took no further action on the case after filing the petition, the complaint said.

The presiding judge dismissed the divorce petition because no action had been taken in more than a year.

“(Kohn) simply abandoned Beeman,” the complaint said.

The complaint also said Kohn failed to withdraw from the divorce case or inform his client when he was suspended by the Supreme Court.

That suspension, for missing a deadline to file for a client’s post-conviction relief, was ordered on March 10, 2015, to last for 60 days beginning May 1, 2015.

Kohn was required to notify his client, opposing counsel and the courts of his suspension within 10 days, under the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, which are written and enforced by the Montana Supreme Court.

Kohn told the Supreme Court in an affidavit seeking reinstatement that he had “candidly” informed his clients about the suspension and helped them find alternative counsel.

But in its review of Kohn, the Office of Disciplinary Conduct found Kohn hadn’t told Beeman about the suspension. Because of that, Kohn committed the criminal act of perjury or false statement, the watchdog group said.

Beeman could not reliably get in touch with Kohn and went for “long periods of time” without hearing from him, the complaint said. Kohn failed to keep his client informed on his cases.

The complaint also said Kohn failed to return unearned fees to Beeman. The client paid a total of $8,500 for Kohn’s representation on the divorce and criminal matters, according to the complaint.

Beeman disputed those amounts in his response but provided no alternative figures for the fees.

In the criminal case, Kohn filed to continue Beeman’s trial on the same date Kohn was suspended for the second time, for a period of seven months.

Kohn wrote that he did so to accommodate his client’s out-of-town travel, presumably for work, and that he was unaware he had been suspended at the time he filed to delay the trial.

But the second suspension should have come as no surprise to Kohn, since a month and a half earlier the Commission on Practice found that he had committed misconduct and had recommended the seven-month suspension.

Kohn’s second suspension came after he failed to inform a client that his appeal of a DUI conviction had been denied. Because Kohn never told the client, the client missed a deadline to appear at the municipal court clerk’s office to register for programs and payments related to the conviction, triggering a warrant for the client’s arrest, the commission found.

And when the Office of Disciplinary Counsel asked Kohn for his file on the DUI case, which contained just two briefs, the attorney said the rest of the paperwork might be missing because there had been a flood in the storage area where his files were kept. The flood occurred before Kohn took the case, the commission found.

In his response, Kohn admitted he failed to act with “reasonable diligence and promptness” in representing Beeman.

Kohn also agreed that Beeman had eventually asked him to resume divorce proceedings, reiterating that Beeman had expressed second thoughts about the separation.

“However, due to the erratic, irrational behavior of his wife, Beeman and the undersigned discussed the dissolution petition on file with the clerk and determined to leave it on file in case his wife acted similarly and attempted to leave with the children.”

Beeman was later charged with felony assault after prosecutors say he tried to choke his wife after an argument about finances. Kohn represented Beeman in that matter, as well as on a protection order later filed against him.

Kohn could not be reached for comment Friday. His listed business number was disconnected, and office staff at 2722 Third Ave. N., where he previously rented office space, said he had not been in the building for a year and had left no contact information.

Kohn was one of three attorneys to be suspended in 2016. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel received 291 informal complaints that year regarding lawyer conduct.

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.