Second District Court Judge Noel S. Hyde ruled June 5 there were sufficient grounds to disbar local attorney Alvin R. Lundgren. He plans to appeal the decision.
Lundgren allegedly took unearned money from client trust accounts from December 2008 to October 2011.
During that time, Lundgren served on the Morgan County Board of Adjustments and Variance, Morgan County Council, Morgan County Planning Commission and ran for Morgan County Attorney. He recently vacated the commission seat and his replacement, David Sawyer, was appointed June 18.
According to court documents, the Office of Professional Conduct of the Utah State Bar sent Lundgren an informal complaint notice Aug. 12, 2011, before officially filing a complaint against Lundgren in Second Judicial District Court Feb. 23, 2012. In that complaint, senior counsel Billy L. Walker said Lundgren should be charged with unprofessional conduct.
The complaint was brought at the directive of the Screening Panel of the Ethics and Discipline of the Utah Supreme Court based on an informal complaint submitted by a Janet Best. The screening panel heard the matter on Jan. 26, 2012.
Best hired Lundgren to pursue a workers compensation claim, which was settled Feb. 10, 2009. In March of 2009, Best received her payout while Lundgren withheld a portion for his attorney fees as well as $2,500 to pay his client’s outstanding medical bills.
Court documents said Lundgren intended to negotiate lower amounts with medical providers. However, by July 2010, over a year later, Best received calls from her doctor’s office stating her bill had not been paid. Best attempted several times to contact Lundgren and received no response.
In the meantime, Lundgren set up monthly payments with the doctor “as he was unable to pay the medical bill in full,” said court documents.
Walker said that for almost three years, Lundgren took unearned money from his client trust account to cover business and personal expenses, transferring money to his operating account, writing checks to himself, and transferring money to his wife’s checking account.
“Mr. Lundgren was suffering financial hardship at the time he took unearned money from his client trust account,” according to Walker’s court documents. “Ms. Best was not the only client account that Mr. Lundgren took unearned money from.”
Walker claimed that no client authorized Lundgren to take their money from the trust account. On occasion, Lundgren was able to reimburse the money. However, Walker said Lundgren has been unable to provide an accounting for the money taken or verify that the money was returned to the account. Lundgren claims he lost hard copies of accounting records in a flood and electronic copies in a computer crash.
In his defense, Lundgren said he did not intend to cause his client harm. In a hearing brief written May 30, 2013, Lundgren said he “was operating in a state of depression, caused from financial distress. The depression contributed to the misconduct by temporarily impairing (my) decision making.”
At the same time, he was grappling with the declining health and eventual death of his daughter who was born with Down Syndrome.
Lundgren claimed in the hearing brief. “(I) knew that (my) actions to use unearned trust funds was improper. (I) was negligent in (my) conduct. (I) temporarily placed (my) needs above (my) clients in this sole instance.”
He also “cured this error, paying the client all of her monies.” None of his clients “lost any money or were harmed in any way. There was no actual injury to any of (my) clients. There have been no other complaints.”
Lundgren said in court documents this is the only event in 24 years since his licensing that he committed any violation of rules. “One event does not make a pattern,” he said. “There is no factual showing that (I am) unable or likely to be unable to properly discharge (my) professional responsibilities.”
He said he has no prior record of discipline by the bar. In addition, the complainant has not actively pressed for sanctions against him, Lundgren said.
Although he admitted to erring, Lundgren asked the court to hand down a sanction less severe than disbarment since he had paid his client back. Other sanctions could have included suspension, reprimand, probation, and restitution, among others. Disbarment would be “unnecessarily harsh,” Lundgren said.