In an email to the Laclede County Record, the lawyer of a Lebanon attorney accused of fraud says his client “strongly disagrees with the vast majority of the accusations and has submitted documents that disprove many of the claims against her.”
On March 17, the Missouri Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel filed a motion with the Missouri Supreme Court to have local attorney Meagan Howe’s license to practice law suspended while she is investigated for professional misconduct and fraud. The motion was approved earlier this week by Supreme Court Justice George Draper III, who wrote in his decision that Howe “poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public and to the integrity of the profession.”
Howe is accused of engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation,” “failed to appropriately protect client funds,” “failed to adequately communicate with clients, “charged unreasonable fees,” “knowingly engaged in a conflict of interest,” “knowingly lied to a tribunal,” “failed to protect a client’s interests upon the termination of representation,” failed to cooperate with (the Chief Disciplinary Counsel” and “is suffering from alcohol addiction which affects her ability to practice,” according to court documents filed with the Missouri Supreme Court.
Howe is represented by the St. Louis law firm of Michael Downey. Downey emailed a response to recent Laclede County Record articles on behalf of his client.
“Meagan Howe has represented many of your readers - her neighbors - for many years. Meagan has many current clients and former clients that are very happy with her services,” Downey wrote.
Prior to issuing the interim suspension, Downey says that his client was seeking a hearing, “where she could present her evidence and an impartial panel to hear that evidence.”
“We anticipated that, if Meagan could tell her side of the story, she would be able to continue practicing as a lawyer. Unfortunately, with the Court's order this week, Meagan has not been permitted to present evidence to a body that is able to evaluate Meagan's evidence countering the allegations,” Downey wrote.
In the email, Downey stresses that “allegations against Ms. Howe are just that, allegations.”
“Meagan strongly disagrees with the vast majority of the accusations, and has submitted documents that disprove many of the claims against her,” he wrote.
According to Downey, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel did not have “final answers from Meagan regarding the complaints made within one week of each” that were filed in August, which led to the filing of the motion for interim suspension. Downey says that the delay in replying came from a “traumatic” experience that Howe lived through at the time the responses were due.
“Meagan was delayed in filing those responses because she had been the victim of a traumatic home burglary that occurred around the time her responses were due,” Downey wrote. “The burglary led Meagan to seek help. She was diagnosed with ADHD as well as PTSD, and began taking medication for those conditions. Meagan's diagnoses were raised in her answer to the court only to explain her delay in responding to the complaints, not for any other reason.”
The email goes on to talk about how 2020 was “a very tough year” for Meagan.
“Like many parents, Meagan had to deal with an abrupt closure of her daughter's childcare due to the COVID pandemic. This disrupted Meagan's ability to work for her clients, and also to respond to the Disciplinary Counsel's letters,” Downey wrote. “Meagan does not claim to be perfect. She realizes that she became disorganized and behind in some aspects of her practice, including in responding to the Disciplinary Counsel. However, Meagan and I both believe Meagan has not caused any significant harm to any client, and that the vast majority of her clients have been satisfied with Meagan's work and the representation they received.”
The Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel initially filed a 39-page document with the Supreme Court that details complaints from several clients, as well as complaints from past employees and an audit of Howe’s trust and operating accounts. Employees allege that Howe did not pay for their 401K and health benefits desipte the fees being deducted from their checks.