An Iowa attorney, William Vilmont, ran an office in Clinton, IA, until May 2010. Vilmont previously had an ethics concern in 1994 when He represented codefendants in a criminal case without properly disclosing the conflict of interest as required.
In January 2010, a mere 4 months before he retired, he agreed to represent Scott Halverson who had been charged with enticing a minor. Halverson agreed to pay $225 an hour as well as paying a retainer of $2500. The retainer was then placed in Vilmont's client trust account. Following the initial client conference, Vilmont entered a written appearance on behalf of Halverson in the criminal case and filed a waiver of the preliminary hearing. On January 25, 2010, the district court dismissed the charges against Halverson at the request of the State who had learned federal authorities had filed charges against Halverson in federal court involving the same matter. Vilmont did not represent Halverson in the federal criminal proceeding. On January 30, 2010, Vilmont withdrew the $2500 retainer from his trust account as payment for his services in representing Halverson in the state court proceeding without notifying Halverson.
Subsequently, Halverson asked repeatedly for Vilmont to return the retainer and provide an accounting. Finally in June 2010, Vilmont gave an accounting to Halverson showing 3.7 hours of work and a charge of $2500. The 3.7 hours included one hour for responding to the request for an accounting. Vilmont was charged with numerous ethical violations, namely charging and collecting an unreasonable fee, withdrawing the unearned fee from the trust account in violation of Iowa rule 32:1.5(a), failing to properly deliver funds belonging to a client and failing to provide a timely accounting in violation of rule 32:1.15(d), and failure to provide an accounting of the withdrawal in violation of rule 32:1.15(f). He continued to maintain that the fee charged was not unreasonable. The Board emphatically stated that it was clearly unethical for an attorney to charge a non-refundable advanced fee. The Board found that his reasonable fees should have been approximately $607. The Board suspended Vilmont for 30 days as well ordering him to pay for the proceedings costs and refund Halverson $ 1893.50. The case can be found here.