The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 24, 2013

Lawrence County prosecutor, Cassville attorney disciplined

By Debby Woodin
news@joplinglobe.com

— The Lawrence County prosecutor and a Barry County attorney were disciplined Tuesday by the Missouri Supreme Court for violations of conduct rules in a civil case they handled.

Al Don Trotter, of Monett, was placed on probation for two years in the disciplinary case related to the injury of a couple and the deaths of three children in a 2008 traffic accident in Rolla. Trotter was elected as Lawrence County prosecutor in 2010.

The other attorney, James Michael Riehn, of Cassville, was admonished for his role in the violations.

Trotter’s attorney, Sara Rittman, of Jefferson City, said by phone that the violations involved a failure of the attorneys to document agreements on representation and fees.

Asked if the disciplinary action would affect Trotter’s ability to serve as prosecutor, she said: “It will not affect him at all. It is strictly a probation order, so he is completely able to practice as prosecutor or as a private attorney.” She said the violations did not involve any criminal case handled by his office.

Neither Riehn nor his attorney, Donald Cupps, of Cassville, could be reached Tuesday for comment.

According to briefs filed in the case by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, the case involved a traffic accident on March 20, 2008, in Rolla. The clients involved in the case were Christina Miess and her boyfriend, Mark Barton. They were stopped in traffic by a road construction crew, and their car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer. Miess’ three daughters, one of them Barton’s daughter, were riding in the back seat and were killed. Barton, who was driving, and Miess were seriously injured, according to the court documents.

The day after the accident, a relative of Miess asked Trotter to meet with the couple. He did, and the couple agreed they would split evenly any damages obtained in regard to the death of their daughter, according to the court files. Trotter brought Riehn in to help him handle the lawsuit.

Later, Miess hired another attorney and released Trotter and Riehn, though Barton continued to be represented by them.

Trotter and Riehn failed to document in writing that there was an agreement between the clients on how the damages were to be divided. Failure to document those agreements in regard to representation and fees resulted in the disciplinary case.

That happened because “the attorneys were more focused at that point on gathering information from the accident and didn’t confirm (the agreements) in writing,” Rittman said.

“Attorneys have very specific, detailed rules, and these rules definitely did require these things in writing, and they just didn’t get those aspects of the rules taken care of in writing,” Rittman said.



Admissions

THE ATTORNEYS admitted to the violations and agreed to the disciplinary action, according to court records.