Journal of the Legal Profession
John Randall is the only former president of the American Bar Association to be disbarred. He wrote a will for a client, Lovell Myers, with whom Randall had been in business for over a quarter-century. The will left all of Myers’s property to Randall, and implicitly disinherited his only child, Marie Jensen. When Jensen learned of the existence of a will, she sued to set it aside. She later filed a complaint with the Iowa Committee on Professional Ethics and Conduct. That complaint was the catalyst leading to Randall’s disbarment.
Randall had acted grievously in serving as Lovell Myers’s attorney. He was also a convenient scapegoat for a profession reeling from the Watergate affair and other crises negatively affecting the reputation of lawyers among the public. Not only had Randall served as ABA President, he was the co-author of a well-known Statement on Professional Responsibility that emphasized the lawyer’s duty to serve clients and society before oneself. Randall had chosen otherwise, and authorities planned to “hold him to ac-count.” The thesis of this essay is that Iowa disciplinary authorities, both its Grievance Commission and the Iowa Supreme Court, strayed from their duty to impartially administer the law as applied to lawyer discipline. They apparently did so in part due to Randall’s egregious behavior in defending himself from his own actions related to Lovell Myers. They also did so in part because Randall served more as a symbol than a tragedy.
A detailed study of the fall from grace of a 79-year-old lawyer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the late 1970s may serve as a cautionary tale. More broadly, Randall’s case offers some insight into the evolution of American legal ethics in the mid-20th century. Finally, Randall’s case may reflect the challenges of applying the rule of law to one whose behavior was marked by efforts to ignore the rule of law.
Michael Ariens, The Fall of an American Lawyer, 46 J. Legal Pro. 195 (2022).