Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets cannot practice law for the next six months after being disciplined by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Viets, known for representing people facing marijuana-related charges, had sought just a reprimand over what ended up being a conflict of interest in a case where he represented a brother and sister in 2012.
The conflicts arose when the sister did not have the same level of fault as her brother, and with the plea deals offered by the prosecutor in the St. Francois County case.
A hearing was held Oct. 6, and the Supreme Court reached its decision Tuesday.
Viets will also have to pay a $1,000 fine.
Viets was named the 2019 Lawyer of the Year by Missouri Lawyers Media for helping draft and pass the legislation that led to the legalization of medical marijuana in the state, according to his brief to the Supreme Court.
He has also received recognition from the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. He was the state coordinator for NORML and is the vice president of Mid-Missouri NORML and board chairman of Show-Me Cannabis.
Previously: Missouri Supreme Court to decide on discipline for Columbia attorney after conflict of interest in 2012 case
The conflict of interest issue arose approximately four years after Viets represented siblings David and Natalie DePriest when they sought a sentence reduction that eventually was granted to time served.
The pair had searched for dual representation for the drug-related case, but were unsuccessful until contacting Viets.
He had the two sign a conflict of interest waiver, but it was not issued in a way that warned the DePriests of all the risks of being represented only by Viets, Nancy L. Ripperger of the state’s disciplinary counsel office argued before the Supreme Court.
A maintenance worker had found a gun and marijuana plants in David’s bedroom and drug paraphernalia in the common areas of the siblings’ shared condominium.
A warrantless search occurred after the worker found what he thought was a pipe bomb, which turned out to be an empty PVC pipe with end caps, according to filed briefs.
Natalie did not have any previous criminal charges or convictions, while David had previously pleaded guilty for failure to register a motor vehicle and failure to wear a seat belt.
The conflict of interest issues surrounding the DePriest case brought clarity to related state and American Bar Association rules, Viets’ attorney, Mark T. Kempton, argued. This understanding came after Viets had a disciplinary hearing that recommended suspension, held prior to the hearing argued at the Supreme Court.
Since Viets did not agree that there was a conflict until after his first disciplinary hearing recommended suspension, he should not get credit for accepting responsibility now, Ripperger argued.
Viets agreed that the Supreme Court found actual conflicts in the DePriest case, Kempton said during last week’s hearing.
Viets was negligent but only a reprimand was appropriate, Kempton argued.