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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Keller

February 13, 2003

IN RE PETITION FOR DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST MICHAEL E. KELLER, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA.


SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The reciprocal discipline of disbarrment is appropriate in Minnesota unless it appears that the disbarrment in another jurisdiction was unfair or that the imposition of the same discipline would be unjust or substantially different from the discipline warranted in Minnesota.

2. Disbarrment is an appropriate discipline for an attorney who cannot be found and who fails, within one year from an order of suspension under Rule 12(c)(1), Rules of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, to move to vacate his suspension or for leave to answer the disciplinary petition.

Disbarred.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

OPINION

In July 2001, this court suspended Michael E. Keller from the practice of law because a petition for disciplinary action had been filed against him and he could not be found in the state. In September 2002, the North Dakota Supreme Court disbarred Keller for misappropriation of client funds, unauthorized practice of law, failure to communicate adequately with his clients and other violations of the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct. On October 7, 2002, we issued an Order to Show Cause why Keller should not be disbarred. Because Keller did not respond to the Order to Show Cause and did not move to vacate the order of suspension or for leave to answer the disciplinary proceeding, and because we conclude that the procedures in North Dakota were consistent with fundamental fairness and due process and that the imposition of identical discipline is neither unjust nor substantially different from that which is warranted under Minnesota law, we order that Keller be disbarred from the practice of law in Minnesota.

Keller was admitted to practice law in North Dakota on October 10, 1984, and in Minnesota on February 14, 1986. He has been suspended from practice in Minnesota since April 1, 2001, for nonpayment of attorney registration fees. His last address on file with the Minnesota attorney registration office is P.O. Box 479, Larimore, North Dakota 58251.

In March 2001, Keller was suspended from the practice of law in North Dakota pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings in that state. Disciplinary Bd. of Supreme Court of State v. Keller, 652 N.W.2d 308, 312 (N.D. 2002). In May 2001, the Director of the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (Director) filed a petition in this court under Rule 12(d) of the Rules of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR), seeking reciprocal discipline in Minnesota.

The Director attempted to make service on Keller at his registered address but was unsuccessful. Accordingly, on July 3, 2001, this court issued an order under Rule 12(c)(1), RLPR, suspending Keller from the practice of law because he could not be found. The order gave him one year to move for vacation of the suspension and for leave to answer the disciplinary petition. He did not do so.

On September 16, 2002, the Director petitioned under Rule 12(c)(2), RLPR, for an order to show cause why Keller should not be disbarred from the practice of law. The petition alleged two grounds for disbarrment: (1) Keller's failure to move the court within one year for vacation of his suspension or for leave to answer the petition for disciplinary action and (2) Keller's intervening disbarrment by the North Dakota Supreme Court on September 9, 2002. Keller, 652 N.W.2d at 312. We issued the requested order on October 7, 2002, requiring Keller to appear on January 9, 2003, to "show cause * * * why the court should not take appropriate action against him under Rule 15, (RPLR)." Rule 15 lists the types of dispositions available in a disciplinary proceeding and includes disbarrment. We ordered the Director to serve notice of this order on Keller pursuant to Rule 12(c)(2), RLPR, and permitted the parties to submit written proposals regarding appropriate discipline on or before December 6, 2002.

The Director served notice of the hearing upon Keller by publication, as authorized by Rule 12(c)(2), in newspapers in Fosston, Minnesota, and Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Director filed a brief proposing that Keller be disbarred as reciprocal discipline under Rule 12(d), RLPR. Keller filed no brief or other written proposal in response to the Order to Show Cause, and he failed to appear at the January 9 hearing.

I.

'"The purpose for imposing identical disciplinary sanctions is to prevent a sanctioned attorney from avoiding the consequences of misconduct by simply moving his or her practice to another state."' In re Meaden, 628 N.W.2d 129, 132 (Minn. 2001) (quoting In re Heinemann, 606 ...


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