Local attorney faces possible disbarment over accusations of professional misconduct - East Idaho News

Local attorney faces possible disbarment over accusations of professional misconduct

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Video footage of Justin Oleson appearing in the Idaho State Supreme Court | Video courtesy Idaho State Supreme Court

BLACKFOOT — The Idaho State Bar has filed a complaint against Justin Oleson, a local attorney and the prosecuting attorney for Custer County. Oleson is being charged with professional misconduct, which could lead to his disbarment, according to court documents obtained by EastIdahoNews.com through a public records request.

These charges are specific to violations of professional ethics, standards or regulations, as set forth by the Idaho Code of Professional Conduct; they are not criminal in nature. Oleson is expected to face the Bar’s Professional Conduct Board to address the allegations.

Background on the issue

The complaint relates to a 2015 divorce case where Oleson represented the husband, Jeff Katseanes.

As part of a divorce agreement with Judy Katseanes (now Judy Yancey), Jeff Katseanes was required to pay Yancey spousal support.

After several years of insufficient payments, Yancey filed a lawsuit seeking enforcement of spousal support. During the proceedings, District Judge Stevan H. Thompson orally granted the request for a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which awarded Yancey the entirety of Katseanes’ 401(k) plan as back payment for the insufficient support.

After the court ruling, but before Thompson signed his written order, Oleson reportedly told Katseanes to liquidate the 401(k).

“(Oleson) advised (Katseanes) to withdraw the plan funds and to pay (Oleson’s) outstanding attorney fees for the representation with those funds,” the ISB complaint alleges.

Katseanes, who wasn’t at the court hearing and wasn’t privy to the court’s decision, did as he was instructed the very next day, according to the complaint.

“One day after the court granted (Yancey’s) QDRO motion,(Katseanes), based on (Oleson’s) direction, called … the third-party administrator of the plan and told (an employee) that (Oleson) had informed him there was no QDRO and, therefore, he could access his plan fund,” the complaint says.

When the holding agency’s employee called Oleson to confirm the funds could be withdrawn, he assured her there wasn’t a QDRO, and Yancey’s attorney “would not get his hands on the money,” according to an affidavit.

Acting on this assurance, the agency allowed Katseanes to liquidate the entire retirement fund, a total of over $61,900.

Neither the court nor Yancey’s attorney knew the money had already been withdrawn, allegedly at Oleson’s direction, until the court signed and entered the QDRO about two weeks later.

Upon learning of the withdrawal, Yancey filed for a restraining order to keep Katseanes from spending the money. Thompson granted the order and expressed concern about the plan’s liquidation, contrary to the QDRO.

Oleson argued the order didn’t take effect until the date the QTRO was signed, but Thompson disagreed.

“I think you’re mincing words. I’m not quite sure what the argument is you’re trying to make,” the Thompson answered, according to court documents. “The proposed QDRO had been submitted to the court. I had reviewed it as part of the motion. I approved it and ordered it be entered, and it simply needed my signature, so it was effective, in my opinion, as of January 6 of 2021.”

The court also ordered Oleson to return his legal fees after discovering he was paid with funds from the 401(k) — an amount totaling over $24,700. He had previously disclosed only $5,700 of those payments, the complaint alleges.

Further, Katseanes was to provide an accounting for how the money was spent. The court-imposed deadline for filing the accounting was April 1, 2021. Reportedly, he delivered the accounting to Oleson before the deadline; however, Oleson didn’t file it with the court, according to the complaint.

Instead, Oleson filed an appeal on April 1.

Later that same day, he also filed a letter with the court, saying in part:

“This confirms that (Katseanes) has complied with the court’s order and brought to my office an accounting of the funds from his retirement account. However, as we have filed an Amended Notice of Appeal today, I do not feel it proper to provide an accounting to the court at this time, until the appeal is resolved. If the court still requires an accounting, I could provide one. However, I do not believe (Katseanes) is required to do so at this time as this is now under appeal.”

Because the accounting wasn’t filed with the court, Katseanes was held in contempt and sentenced to five days in jail. He was ordered to pay Yancey’s court and lawyer fees, as well, according to court documents.

Katseanes appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing the order of contempt and order to return the money were both improper because the QDRO didn’t become effective until the written order was signed by the court.

‘You got paid’

When the appeal was heard by the Idaho Supreme Court in January 2023, Oleson once again represented Katseanes. Doing so was a conflict of interest, according to the Idaho State Bar’s complaint, because it was Oleson’s actions (or inaction) that had resulted in the initial finding of contempt.

It was clear the Supreme Court Justices felt there was a conflict. Justice Robyn Brody interrupted Oleson just minutes into his argument.

“You have a conflict of interest with your client that prohibits you from representing him in this particular matter,” Brody said.

“It’s beyond the pale that we’re here talking about this with you representing this man, as Justice Brody pointed out,” Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan added, even though Oleson denied a conflict of interest.

Bevan went on to express frustration with Oleson and his actions during the case, especially regarding the QDRO.

Additionally, Justice Gregory Moeller pointed out that Oleson had intentionally disregarded the judge’s order by telling Katseanes to liquidate the 401(k).

“I’m concerned … within your role as an officer of the court taking an action you knew was going to frustrate the judge’s order in this case,” Moeller said. “You told (the holding company) that there was not a QDRO in place and that ‘(Yancey’s attorney) wouldn’t get his hands on the money.’

“You used a profanity in that comment,” he continued. “That sounds to me like you were intentionally taking an action that you knew would subvert the court’s order.”

Oleson hadn’t made any official statement refuting the recounting of events by the holding company’s employee, Moeller said. Without evidence to the contrary, the justices could only see his actions as an attempt to undermine the will of the court.

What he “supposedly said” was of no consequence, Oleson argued. Whatever happened between the oral granting of the QDRO and the signing of the order was due to the judge not verbally saying the order was in effect the same day he granted it. It wasn’t as if he went and took the money, he said.

“You were paid the money,” Justice John Stegner interjected. “You were paid.”

In the end, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. It upheld the order of contempt against Katseanes and the order of disgorgement — that is, the order to return the funds — against Oleson. Katseanes ended up serving three days in jail.

Watch the Idaho Supreme Court hearing in its entirety in the video player above.

The allegations

The concerns voiced by the justices in these hearings are echoed in the charges filed by the Idaho State Bar on Sept. 14, alleging multiple instances of professional misconduct in Oleson’s representation of Katseanes.

Several charges have to do with a failure to consult or communicate with his client on various occasions throughout the case, including not filing the accounting on time, which he reportedly neither told Katseanes about nor presented a defense to the court for.

The Bar accuses Oleson of a conflict of interest for representing Katseanes in a contempt motion despite the motion being based on Oleson’s failure to file Katseanes’ accounting, as ordered by the court.

Furthermore, the Bar alleges Oleson knowingly provided incorrect information about facts or laws and failed to rectify false statements. For example, he reportedly disclosed only $5,700 of the $24,700 he received from the 401(k) funds.

The complaint also asserts Oleson knowingly disobeyed a court obligation by advising Katseanes to withdraw funds, despite the district court ruling granting a QDRO motion. He allegedly knew this action would “frustrate the judge’s order.”

Oleson is also charged with making a false statement to a third party. He allegedly failed to inform Katseanes and the holding company about the QDRO, potentially implicating Katseanes in a criminal or fraudulent act.

The Bar concludes that Oleson’s actions were “prejudicial to the administration of justice,” leading to additional costs and efforts on the court’s part. Katseanes faced financial consequences — including attorney fees and costs related to motions — and three days in jail for criminal contempt, all attributed to Oleson’s conduct.

The Bar is seeking Oleson’s disbarment, restitution to Katseanes for incurred fees and costs and reimbursement for the costs of investigating and prosecuting the matter.

The answer

EastIdahoNews.com reached out to Oleson for comment about the complaint against him. He said he “would love to discuss the complaint and details.” However, his lawyer, Michelle Points, had advised against doing so.

Multiple requests to Points for a statement went unanswered.

Oleson has submitted a response to the complaint lodged with the professional conduct board, adamantly denying all allegations presented against him.

While he acknowledges he received funds from Katseanes, Oleson contends he was unaware the money was from the contested 401(k). He also asserts there’s “no substantiated basis” for the claim that the payments were taken from the 401(k) funds.

Regarding the accounting matter, Oleson argues he understood that filing an appeal would put the case on hold. He, therefore, believed submitting the accounting was unnecessary.

In addressing his duty to Katseanes, Oleson points out his client’s “elusive” nature. Katseanes “frequently failed to promptly respond” to his requests, Oleson claims, and sometimes disregarded his advice.

Oleson asserts that all the decisions he made and actions he took were guided by the best interests of his client and were, he feels, in compliance with case law. Despite the allegations of a conflict of interest, Oleson maintains he never perceived such a conflict and consistently acted with Katseanes’ well-being in mind.

What’s next?

Unless Oleson or the Idaho State Bar requests a hearing, the matter will be reviewed by a committee. Joseph W. Borton, chair of the Professional Conduct Board, David P. Claiborne and Soren Jacobsen, both members of the board, have been assigned to the committee for this complaint.

A review date hasn’t been set, but the committee will give its decision within 21 days of the review or the date of a hearing (if any), whichever is later. If the committee’s decision results in a sanction being imposed on Oleson, he may ask the Supreme Court to review the decision.