Former lawyer with felony conviction asks Supreme Court for reinstatement
Kenneth Orrock served as Bennett County state’s attorney
The South Dakota Supreme Court chamber at the state Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
A Rapid City attorney who admitted to felony tax evasion in 2017 wants the South Dakota Supreme Court to reinstate him as a member of the State Bar.
Kenneth Orrock was Bennett County state’s attorney before being charged in federal court for failing to collect and remit payroll taxes from 2011 through 2015. The charges didn’t relate to his practice of law, but to his security company, called Black Hills Patrol. He was given a five-year probation sentence and ordered to pay $280,000 in restitution after pleading guilty. He was released from probation after three years.
On Wednesday, Orrock appeared before the state Supreme Court in Pierre to ask for limited readmission to the bar. The bar’s disciplinary board heard from Orrock earlier this year and recommended readmission on several conditions, among them limiting Orrock’s practice to criminal law and requiring him to retake and pass the bar exam.
Longtime Fall River County attorney Jim Sword backed Orrock during the hearing, testifying to the quality of his work as an assistant and his growth as a person since the 2017 case commenced.
He’s an active member of his church and works with veterans, for example, in spite of being ostracized by many of his fellow veterans and attorneys after his felony crimes came to light.
“This is a story of resilience,” said Sword, who has agreed to act as Orrock’s supervisory lawyer, should the Supreme Court agree to the disciplinary board’s terms.
Orrock testified on his own behalf, as well.
“As a newly minted attorney in 2008, I never thought my first appearance before this court would be for something like this,” Orrock said. “I’m ashamed of myself that it is.”
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He told the court he has a support system in place to keep him in check if he is readmitted, and told the justices he’s worked to stay current with Supreme Court decisions and other changes to the law since he resigned as a bar member.
Chief Justice Steven Jensen said it was clear to him that Orrock had done a great deal of work on himself since his conviction, but also asked about complaints from before the charges appeared in 2017. Orrock had seven complaints lodged against him, some of which were later expunged, with others leading to reprimand. That’s more than usual, Jensen said.
Orrock explained that a possible client had been upset with him over his failure to do work on a case after accepting a retainer, which is a payment made to secure a lawyer’s services. He said the retainer was repaid. Another case involved a contentious divorce with “a very uncooperative and contemptuous client,” and another involved working to secure pension benefits for the elderly widow of a veteran. He and the widow had a hard time communicating, he said, and that was the basis of the complaint. Orrock would not handle divorces or civil cases under the terms of his readmission.
His ability to act as a court-appointed attorney, however, could help relieve the burden caused in the Rapid City area by a dearth of criminal lawyers.
“Many of the court appointed attorneys that I’ve been able to speak to in the last several months have just been overwhelmed,” Orrock said. “As a matter of fact, one told me last week he’s stopping to take them because he can’t do it any more.”
Jensen also asked Orrock about his restitution. He’s paid around $80,000 through $1,000 monthly payments, he said.
Tom Frieberg of the State Bar told the justices that restitution was a concern of the disciplinary board, though the board felt Orrock had done much to earn a chance at readmission. Orrock told the board he was about to sell his security guard business and pay off the remainder of his debt.
Sword addressed that issue with his final rebuttal. There was a pending sale that fell through at the last minute “through no fault of Mr. Orrock.”
Sword said Orrock knows he’d be expected to devote more of his salary to restitution.
“If he was to start practicing law, he would dedicate, I think it was like 25% of his income from the practice a lot to pay off that restitution,” Sword said.
The court will issue a decision at a later date.
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