Lawrence attorney suspended for 3 years over allegations of mishandling retirement account

? A Lawrence attorney has been suspended from practice for three years following a complaint that she mishandled an employee’s retirement account.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday suspended Brandy Sutton, of the Pendleton and Sutton law firm, 1031 Vermont St.

According to the court’s decision, Sutton offered her employees a Simple IRA retirement account as a benefit and agreed to match their contributions into those accounts, up to 3 percent of their salary.

As detailed in the court’s decision:

In May 2015, an associate attorney in the firm, identified only by her initials, L.M., resigned to go work for another firm. At that time, she reviewed her account and discovered that Sutton had not made consistent deposits into her account.

L.M. wrote to Sutton claiming that her retirement account was short by an estimated $9,000, and she said she would settle the matter if Sutton paid her $20,000. When Sutton did not respond to that letter after more than three weeks, L.M. filed a complaint with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, an agency within the judicial branch that investigates complaints against attorneys in Kansas.

Sutton responded to the complaint in writing to the disciplinary administrator, saying the firm had been having financial difficulties as a result of lawsuits filed against two former associate attorneys for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and for violating court orders in bankruptcy cases.

But she went on to say that she had secured a line of credit to settle the firm’s debts, including the money it owed to employee retirement accounts.

Then, four days later, she sent L.M. a lengthy email in which she said she had been suffering from mental health issues and blamed L.M. for “gross negligence” in the handling of a bankruptcy case.

She also claimed that the retirement account was short only about $4,300, and she called the demand for $20,000 “absurd.”

At a hearing, the disciplinary administrator’s office recommended Sutton be suspended indefinitely. But the hearing panel, noting that Sutton had made L.M. and the other employees whole for the shortages in their retirement funds, recommended only that she be placed on supervised probation for three years

In its order Friday, a majority on the Supreme Court struck a compromise, ordering a three-year suspension, but allowing Sutton to apply for probation after six months if she submits a 30-month probation plan that is approved by the disciplinary administrator. It also said a minority on the court would have adopted the hearing panel’s recommendation for probation.

The decision did not indicate which justices were part of the majority and which were the minority, but it did note that Justice Carol Beier did not participate.