PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court has found that an attorney broke a state law and several conduct rules, when she represented two boys, whose mother and father had their parental rights terminated, as well as another couple who served as foster parents and wanted to adopt the children.
The justices publicly censured Rose Ann Wendell of Pierre for violating a state law that prohibits a lawyer appointed in a child abuse or neglect case from representing any other party in the judicial proceedings.
Wendell was ordered to pay to the State Bar of South Dakota $2,432.06 as reimbursement of itemized expenses for the investigation. The State Bar’s seven-member disciplinary board recommended the punishment.
While she represented the boys, Wendell sent a fee agreement for $2,500 to the foster parents who wanted to adopt them. She deposited the money into her client trust account on March 25, 2020, and began getting information together to assist the foster parents.
The foster parents were represented by another attorney at a June 15, 2020, placement hearing. At that hearing, Wendell objected to the boys’ removal from the foster parents. Wendell didn’t disclose her representation of the foster parents.
On June 30, 2020, Wendell refunded $1,767.81 to the foster parents and charged them $687.50 for services. On November 24, 2020, attorney Dana Hanna of Rapid City sought to have Wendell removed as the lawyer for the boys because Wendell had also represented the foster parents.
Wendell told Circuit Judge Margo Northrup that day that she didn’t believe she had a retention agreement with the foster parents. Wendell then stopped representing the boys.
As of the June 15, 2021, hearing before the disciplinary board, Wendell hadn’t yet contacted Judge Northrup to disclose that she represented the boys and the foster parents. Wendell also hadn’t refunded the balance of the $2,500 at that time. She provided the refund after the hearing.
The disciplinary board noted that Wendell had “a lengthy history of complaints.”
They included seven complaints that were dismissed and expunged without a finding of a rule violation; four dismissals where she was cautioned for her conduct; and “three admonitions which reflected elevated concerns” by the board about her conduct.
At the disciplinary hearing, Wendell acknowledged she had violated a court rule when she represented the boys and the foster parents. She also acknowledged she had violated another court rule when she failed to correct a false statement she made to Judge Northrup.
She also acknowledged that she broke the state law barring representing more than one set of parties.
The board concluded that Wendell’s actions and her history of disciplinary complaints reflected “a lack of understanding of her obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct.”