The state’s attorney review board has called a Billings lawyer’s practice a “fly by the seat of your pants” operation in a sharply worded letter seeking his third suspension.
The letter, written by the Commission on Practice, was filed with the Supreme Court on Jan. 12 and recommended that Brian Kohn be suspended for at least seven months, repay a client $850 plus 10 percent interest, and cover the costs of the disciplinary proceedings against him.
It also recommended that if Kohn seeks reinstatement, he be required for three years to keep a professional mentor, approved by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, and provide ODC with a plan for improvement, including documenting client phone calls and instituting a calendaring system with at least two methods of control that ensure he meets deadlines.
The Supreme Court has the ultimate say on attorney discipline.
In April 2017, the ODC, the state’s attorney watchdog group, filed its most recent complaint against Kohn, saying he’d “abandoned” a client amid a divorce case, failed to notify the client of his suspension for actions in another case, and failed to return unearned fees.
The commission held a hearing in October and issued its findings on Kohn’s case in January.
“His practice appears to be a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ one,” the commission wrote.
Kohn does not have procedures in place to automatically ensure clients receive copies of all case proceedings, the letter stated. When faced with misconduct complaints, he did not comply with mandatory reporting requirements or provide necessary information to the ODC.
Kohn’s “desire to practice law appears insincere,” and his office practices are “abysmal,” the commission found.
Kohn has five prior disciplinary measures entered against him, the commission noted, including the two suspensions. The fact that the ODC did not seek Kohn’s disbarment in the current case was a significant factor in the commission not recommending a stiffer penalty.
The commission sustained three of the six complaints the watchdog group made against Kohn, finding the attorney did not take reasonable steps to protect a client’s interest, failed to respond to the ODC’s request for information and broke rules requiring him to notify his client and others of his legal discipline.
The commission found Kohn did not commit perjury, as the ODC had alleged in its complaint. Kohn had told the Supreme Court after one of his previous suspensions that he “candidly” notified his clients and helped them find alternative counsel, but the ODC disputed that, saying Kohn committed perjury or false statements in asserting that he’d properly notified clients.
The commission also said Kohn did not fail to competently represent his client or keep him reasonably informed about the status of his case.
Kohn has been suspended twice already for complaints similar to the current one.
On May 1, 2015, the Supreme Court suspended Kohn for 60 days after he missed a deadline to file for a client’s post-conviction relief.
On Sept. 1, 2016, the court suspended him for seven months 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.
Reached by phone Thursday, Kohn said the current findings against him were unreasonable because the client in the case was difficult to contact, at times living outside of cell service and not having properly forwarded mail.
He also said he has business plans to create a legal database, and is no longer interested in continuing the legal career he’s had in the past.
“I’m done with criminal defense, let’s put it that way,” Kohn said. “Because of people like Mr. Beeman.”
William Beeman was Kohn’s client in the case that prompted the current complaint.
Asked about the comment that his practice was “fly by the seat of your pants,” Kohn said that was due to the nature of his work.
“Well when you deal with criminal defendants that move, change addresses, disappear, reappear, judges that move hearings rather flippantly, you have to be sort of ‘seat of your pants,’” he said.
Kohn also said that Ward Taleff, the commission chair and author of the findings against Kohn recommending his third suspension, had treated him unfairly.
“I don’t know if I dated his daughter and didn’t realize it, or what,” Kohn said. “But he’s been rough.”