An area attorney has been disbarred after a Supreme Court ruling came down nearly a year after he was placed on suspension.
Michael P. Kelly, of Potosi, was disbarred on Tuesday after the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC) filed documents advising the Missouri Supreme Court of its findings of an investigation. Kelly was licensed to practice law in 1984 and his license was suspended with no leave to apply for reinstatement for one year in an order dated in May.
According to court documents, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel believed Kelly to be guilty of professional misconduct. Also the Chief Disciplinary Counsel sent numerous requests allowing Kelly to file an answer or other response. Kelly failed to file a timely response.
On Aug. 22, information was received charging Kelly with misconduct, along with notices that were sent to him with no response.
On Dec. 5 a letter was again sent to disciplinary authorities and Kelly, and the Supreme Court Advisory Committee noted Kelly’s failure to file an answer.
Kelly’s disciplinary history includes violations of rules on diligence (a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client) in 1993, 2000, 2007, and 2013 and violations of rules on communication (a lawyer shall keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information) in 1993 and 2000. He also failed to respond to disciplinary authorities in 2007.
Court documents state he was suspended in 2017 stemming from a disciplinary case involving four different clients. The Supreme Court concluded he violated rules involving competence, diligence, communication, dishonest conduct, and termination of representation. It also found he failed to deposit an advance fee in a trust account and failed to provide accounting for fee when requested.
The last allegations were that Kelly agreed to handle legal matters for three separate clients, accepted fee payments for the work and never completed the work. He has been non-responsive to his clients who want their files and money back.
The court documents state Kelly’s abandonment of his clients, his failure to communicate with his clients or the OCDC, and his long disciplinary history, along with his suspension, as well as the sheer volume of his rule violations, supported the disciplinary counsel’s recommendation that he be disbarred.
In addition to his disbarment, at least one person has filed a civil suit against him in an attempt to recover funds given to Kelly for representation.
That individual alleges she hired him for a bankruptcy case and did everything Kelly had asked. In return, she never heard back from him. After months of attempting to get in touch with Kelly with no results, she is being sued for debts that were claimed in the bankruptcy, is broke, has no home and relies on others to survive.
For many veterans of the Vietnam War, paying homage to their fallen comrades means a long trip to the nation’s capital and a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial, where the names of those lost in the conflict are forever etched into stone. With the help of a Farmington business, however, Midwest veterans will soon be able to pay their respects a little closer to home.
Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial, a proposed full-size replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C. is planned for erection in Perryville, Missouri, under the direction of a board of directors and made possible by generous donations by a Vietnam War veteran.
“What we’re doing is we’re building an exact replica, in every detail, of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.,” said board President Mike Lundy. “We’ve worked very closely with people at the memorial in D.C.”
Vietnam War Veteran Jim Eddleman was the man who made the project truly possible by donating a staggering $2.5 million plus property toward the completion of the memorial.
“He started out giving $1 million, then when he saw the project grow, he put another $1.5 million in,” Lundy said. “Then, when we were looking for ground— they’d cut a new road through his farmland, which is a third-generation farm. He said, ‘Why don’t I just give this piece to you and you can put it there?’”
Eddleman said for him, the memorial is a way for him to give back to his fellow soldiers who never came home from the conflict in Southeast Asia.
“Really, it started for me when I was in Vietnam,” Eddleman said. “I saw the reality of what war really was, and I told myself that if I ever made it back home to the United States, I’d have to do something to show my respect and honor for my comrades. It took me about 47 years for this to happen, but it finally happened. It’s way more than I ever expected, but it’s going to be really nice when we get it done.”
Upon completion, the memorial campus will consist not only of the wall, but a welcome center and adequate facilities for groups to hold reunions and gatherings.
“We’re going to have a lot more to offer than what Washington, D.C. has,” Eddleman said. “We’re going to have a welcome center, a museum, and we’ve got other things in the long-term plans as well. We’ve got 40-plus acres to work with, so we’ve got a lot of property. We’re planning on having a cemetery for veterans, and we’re going to have a building for reunions for different branches of service. We’re trying to do everything right.”
A Farmington tie
On March 2, members of the memorial board met at Eternal Etchings, a Farmington business specializing in monument engraving. Lundy said the business will etch all of the 140 stone panels with the names of the fallen.
“In here are the beginning of the panels that we were originally hoping to have etched by Memorial Day,” Lundy said. “We’ve had a little bit of a delay to make sure every character is correct. But now that we’ve got started, we’re probably talking the middle of June before it gets done, if everything goes as it should.”
Lundy said the project owes a great deal to the business’ owner Kevin Hale for having the skill and facility to accomplish the large amount of engravings demanded by the project.
“We had a dream, we had a vision and we had the money,” Lundy said. “We just needed someone to help us get it done. He helped us getting the granite, making sure of the quality, and now he’s taking care of every detail to make sure it’s all correct.”
Hale’s skills, which make him uniquely qualified to undertake the large project, begin with an interest in drawing and painting during his time as a student at Farmington High School. After graduating, he entered a landscape and architectural program at Kansas State University before entering a horticultural program in St. Louis. Before completing the program, however, he received a phone call about a possible job doing stone etching.
“I’d never even thought about the monument industry, headstones or cemeteries or anything at that point,” Hale said. “I walked in and I saw these black granite tiles that have these detailed etchings on them. They said to take a towel and a Dremel etching tool and see what I could do. I took it home, etched a couple deer and something just clicked.”
For the first six years of his career in etching, Hale said the process was done completely by hand, without the aid of computers.
“So after doing six and a half years of that in my early twenties, I already had carpal tunnel symptoms and my back was killing me,” he said. “So I decided I had to find a way to make this work long-term.
“I’d been looking into the laser process for a while, then I realized that’s where I needed to head. When I looked at the first machines, the detail wasn’t there yet. There was a whole system and it couldn’t match what I could do by hand. Finally, the technology caught up. So I started working with it and I’ve been doing that about 11 years now.”
Hale said the laser etching machine in his shop will be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week for about four months to get the memorial completed. He said the project is made less daunting by other large projects he’s worked on, like a memorial at the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail in Boone County, Missouri.
“After you handle a project like that and you get a few more under your belt, this isn’t as daunting as you would think,” he said. “You just take a panel at a time and make sure you get everything right in the computer before you start on the stone.”
Lundy said after the project is completed, it will provide a place to pay respects to fallen Vietnam veterans in a radically different setting than the original wall in the capital. He said nearly 6 million people a year visit the wall in urban Washington, D.C., whereas the Perryville wall will be situated in a quiet, peaceful environment.
“At our wall, if the Vietnam veterans have a group and want to come down and spend the day, we’re going to shut it down to the public,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is not just a local memorial, but a national memorial.”
“It’s going to be a completely different atmosphere than the one in D.C. because you’re going to be out in the peace and silence of nature,” Hale said.
It is estimated that the etching of the names into the stone panels will be completed in June, with the completion of the memorial to follow.
UPDATED ON MARCH 9 WITH NEW REOPENING DATE FOR WASHINGTON STREET
Another downtown property owner is utilizing the Architectural Preservation Grant Agreement to preserve a historic piece of Farmington history.
Robert Gierse’s family has owned the property located at 104 W. Columbia St. since 1884 – purchasing the two-story wood building from John A. Weber, the first mayor of Farmington.
The building at the 104 W. Columbia St. address, believed to be built in 1875, is the oldest intact frame commercial building in the downtown area. And, because of that, is eligible for the program helping keep the history alive in the downtown area.
“We have our TIF grant program that provides some funding on a 50/50 match basis for people to do some restoration work on these buildings,” City Administrator Greg Beavers said after the meeting. “This is a great opportunity for us to be able to help with it.”
A historical designation is required for a property to be eligible for the funding. A public hearing on that designation was held prior to the start of regular session.
During the hearing, Beavers said the property owners approached the city about using the funding for restoration work after reading a story in the Daily Journal about the designation of the property at the corner of Columbia and Jefferson Streets.
Tim Porter, director of development services, said the property at 106 W. Columbia St. was built around 1893. Both are part of the designation for the preservation funds.
All plans for the restoration were required to go before the Historical Preservation Committee and Planning and Zoning, receiving favorable recommendations from both.
The Gierses plan to use the matching funds to restore and replace woodwork and replacement of storefront windows.
The designation, as well as a resolution approving the architectural preservation grant agreement, were approved during regular session.
In other business, Ward IV Councilman Mark Kellogg, head of the Public Works Committee, thanked the community for their patience during the road closures as part of the infrastructure sewer improvement work along Washington Street this weekend.
Both directions of traffic in the area of North Washington Street are expected to open back up around Monday afternoon, weather permitting.
On Friday, the announcement was made the date is pushed back to Wednesday, March 14 due to conflict with existing utilities, according to a press release from the Public Works Department.
Crews are performing sewer line connection work in that area over the weekend. The city administrator said motorists are asked to pay attention to the road closure signs, as well as for crews working in the area.
“It’s just a natural course of what we do, working on utilities requires working very frequently in the road right-of-ways,” he said, “so, be cognizant of the fact there are workers out, there are open trenches. For your safety, their safety, pick a different route if you have that option and follow the detour signs.”
In other business, the council established school zones. The city administrator explained Senate Bill 5, passed in 2015, places restrictions on the amount of a fine a city can charge for minor traffic violations – however, there is a “carve out” for school zones in that bill.
A fine for a traffic violation in a school zone can be as much as $500.
The new designation defines a school zone as “any school traffic safety zone clearly identifiable by use of a sign and/or flashing lights. A sign may indicate the times during which the school zone speed limit applies and flashing lights indicate that the school zone speed limit is in effect.”
“We feel like it’s important to cooperate with the schools, prosecutor and local law enforcement to make sure we’re putting the best protections in place to make sure that people are paying attention to those school zones and driving safe through them,” Beavers said.
The school zones will be identified by a yellow, pentagon shaped sign to indicate a school crossing, a white sign designating the school zone speed limit and the hours the limit is active and a flashing light or lights to indicate the zone is active.
Other business included council approval on old business for a resolution for the city to enter into a contract with Redmond and Sons Excavation.
Other resolutions receiving approval from the council included the appointment of Mayor Larry Forsythe and Ward III Councilman Darrel Holdman to serve on the Mineral Area Community Improvement District Board of Directors, a contract with Lead Belt Materials Co. Inc. for 2018 asphalt street improvements, a contract with Kingsland Concrete for new installation and removal and replacement of concrete curb, gutter and sidewalks a lease agreement with Jeffery W. and Krista B. Bullock for property at 106 Aldergate and a resolution for the city to adopt the St. Francois County All-Hazard Mitigation plan.
In his report, Mayor Forsythe mentioned he is considering bringing before the Administrative Services committee the possibility of moving the start time to 6 p.m. for meetings.
Council next meets in regular session on March 26 in council chambers, located at 110 W. Columbia St.
Two cases were dismissed recently due to a lack of evidence.
Originally Cynthia A. Pennington, 57, and Randy S. Pennington, 50, of rural Farmington, were both charged with a Class A felony of financial exploitation of the elderly (over the age of 60).
St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin said the case was dismissed. He said Assistant Prosecutor Patrick King made the determination after going through all the evidence.
“We got a substantial amount of evidence from the deposition and once we got all of the evidence from the deposition it appeared the victim could not give us enough testimony to be able to completely go forward with the case,” said Mahurin. “I am not accusing her of lying, but she got to the point where a lot of things she said in the beginning she changed and she altered.”
Mahurin said there was just no way to go forward with the case anymore.
“Pat King was handling the case and he was the one who did the depositions,” said Mahurin. “He sat down with the victims and they understood the answers had changed substantially and the evidence they had provided earlier may not be there now.”
Mahurin said it’s one of those cases where you know something happened, but you just really can’t prove that it happened.
“I think the victims are going to institute a civil case if they haven’t already to see if that can bring any kind of relief to them,” said Mahurin. “They are going to just go on their own way after that. It was something they had asked us and we can’t advise on civil cases, so we told them to if they want to talk to a private attorney that is probably the route to go from here.”
In April 2014 the Penningtons were accused of using "undue influence to obtain control" over an elderly woman's finances between 2008 and October of 2013.
According to court records, the elderly woman owned several properties such as homes and condos. Cynthia Pennington was hired in November of 2006 to do office work for the woman's company while Randy Pennington was hired later on to handle maintenance work.
In October of 2013, a relative learned that the woman was missing funds and also that a credit card had been opened in her name and in the business' name without the woman's consent or knowledge. The account had nearly $50,000 worth of charges. Payments to the card of $33,600 had been made by the elderly woman's company.
There were also checks written to motorcycle dealers, gun shops, kennels, as well as expenses for a website, advertising and other expenses related to Randy Pennington's own company, totaling $268,404. That amount does not include the checks the Penningtons wrote on the account for their salaries.
All of the checks have a signature purported to be Cynthia Pennington's. Many of the checks have either Randy's or Cynthia's driver's license number written on them.
If the case had proceeded and they were convicted, they could have been sentenced to life in prison.