The Missouri Supreme Court put Kansas City lawyer Allison L. Bergman on probation Tuesday for violating rules of professional conduct involving charges of an undisclosed romance with a client.
The case grew out of a dispute at the Kansas City Terminal Railway Co. involving its then-president, Chuck Mader. Bergman, working then at Lathrop & Gage LC, represented the railway company as its outside general counsel and corporate secretary.
Lathrop & Gage had filled that role since 1906 for the railway company, which is a joint operation by the railroads that serve Kansas City.
The court’s order put Bergman on probation for two years. The court had suspended her license, a more serious disciplinary action, but stayed that decision and ordered the probation.
“It means that the court did not believe this was a problem that was worthy of removing her from the practice of law,” said Chip Robertson, a former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, who represented Bergman in the case and commented Wednesday on her behalf.
The Missouri court’s chief disciplinary counsel had argued that Bergman failed to disclose her romantic relationship with Mader to the railway’s board of directors, according to an online case summary at the state’s highest court. He also challenged Bergman’s role in various activities, including Mader’s hiring and legal work on a railcar purchase involving a company partly owned by Mader.
The court summary said their relationship began in 2002, which was before her role as outside general counsel and Mader’s employment at the railway company. Robertson, in representing Bergman, argued that it also predated by at least five years the effective date of the rules she was charged with violating.
Robertson also argued that Bergman disclosed their relationship to the company’s president, William Somervell, whom Mader ultimately succeeded, and that another officer and a board member were aware of it.
Bergman, Robertson argued, further saw Somervell as the senior representative of her corporate client and felt her legal duties were to the company, not its board, executives or other constituents.
Neither Mader nor Somervell could be reached for comment.
According to its website, the Missouri Supreme Court had suspended licenses 220 times in the last nine years and stayed 58 of them by ordering probation. The court also is able to disbar a lawyer, which the court has done 163 times in the last nine years.
Bergman left Lathrop & Gage in 2012 and is of counsel at the Hardwick Law Firm LLC in Kansas City.
During her 14 years at Lathrop & Gage, Bergman won several recognitions and awards, including being named by the state’s bar association as a finalist for lawyer of the year in 2009. In 2013, she received the Alumni Achievement Award-School of Law from the alumni association of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.