Although reinstatement to the practice of law after disbarrment is rare, a disbarred attorney who proves by clear and convincing evidence that she has undergone a moral change, such that clients can have complete confidence in her competence and morality, and who complies with Rule 18, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility, may be reinstated following independent review of the entire record in support of the reinstatement petition. In its independent review of the entire record, the court considers proof of moral change, the attorney's recognition of wrongful conduct, the length of time since the misconduct and disbarrment, the seriousness of the original misconduct, the attorney's physical or mental illness or pressures that are susceptible to correction, and the attorney's intellectual competency to practice law.
Attorney conditionally reinstated.
Original Jurisdiction Per Curiam
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
In this case we consider the recommendation of a three-member panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board that disbarred attorney, petitioner Sharon Ramirez, be conditionally reinstated to the practice of law in Minnesota. The Director of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (the director) challenges the panel's conclusion that Ramirez has proved by clear and convincing evidence that she has undergone the requisite moral change to render her fit to resume the practice of law. The director recommends that Ramirez be denied reinstatement. We have independently reviewed the record and we conclude that Ramirez is entitled to be reinstated to the practice of law, subject to conditions recommended by the panel and described more fully below.
Ramirez was admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota in October 1992. She was employed as an in-house government affairs attorney from 1992 until August 1996. From June 1994 to July 1996, Ramirez submitted "well over 14-15" improper requests for reimbursement of travel expenses to her employer. Ramirez knew these requests were false and improper, and her conduct in submitting the requests involved planning and conscious decisions on her part. In July 1996, Ramirez falsely represented to her employer that she had attended a meeting out of state. A corporate audit resulted, and on the advice of her supervisor, Ramirez resigned in the middle of an audit meeting. In November 1997, Ramirez stipulated to disbarrment, which we then ordered. In re Ramirez, 577 N.W.2d 480, 481 (Minn. 1997). As a result of her misconduct, Ramirez was charged in Ramsey County District Court with theft by swindle, to which she pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to 90 days incarceration and 10 years of probation, and was ordered to pay restitution to her employer. Ramirez was fully discharged from probation more than 5 years early and satisfied her restitution obligation ahead of schedule.
After her release from jail, Ramirez was employed for approximately 1-1/2 years as a program manager for the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project. Since February 2001, Ramirez has been employed by the United States Bankruptcy Court in Puerto Rico (the bankruptcy court). Initially she held the position of legal analyst at the bankruptcy court, which involved legal research and case administration for bankruptcy court judges. Her position later changed to team supervisor of case administration and then to team supervisor for the core services team. One of her current responsibilities is supervising the reconciliation clerk, who each day reconciles the daily transactions of court fees with cash register receipts.
In December 2004, Ramirez petitioned for reinstatement to the practice of law, as permitted by Rule 18, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR).*fn1 As required by Rule 18, the director investigated and reported to a three-member panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board. The director took no clear position on Ramirez's petition at the panel hearing and presented no witnesses. The panel concluded that Ramirez had demonstrated evidence of both moral change since her disbarrment and fitness to practice law. The director now challenges the panel's conclusion that Ramirez has proven by clear and convincing evidence that she has undergone the requisite moral change to render her fit to resume the practice of law.
The first witness at the panel hearing was a professor who had supervised Ramirez in a civil practice clinic during law school and with whom she has remained in contact over the years. The professor testified that he had spoken with Ramirez about her misconduct both before she was disbarred and after her release from jail, and that Ramirez never discounted her personal responsibility. The professor testified that Ramirez had insight into the wrongfulness of her conduct, never denied her guilt, accepted full responsibility for her conduct, exhibited remorse, and had taken positive steps to "restore her soul and rebuild her reputation."
Ramirez's next witness was an attorney who had been her friend since law school and who had accompanied Ramirez to her first court appearance and her sentencing hearing, visited her in jail, and helped her find employment upon her release. This witness testified that Ramirez took ownership of her actions, demonstrated insight into the wrongfulness of her conduct, and accepted personal responsibility. She also testified that the experience made Ramirez wiser, profoundly changed and shaped the way she acts, and made her "brutally honest" and "extremely candid." The witness testified that Ramirez is now "more diligent" and "adheres to the letter of the law" without deviation.
The panel also heard testimony from two of Ramirez's current co-workers and her current supervisor. Ramirez's co-workers testified that they believe Ramirez regrets and accepts responsibility for her misconduct, and that she is responsible, intelligent, committed, motivated, honest, and a trusted co-worker. They also testified that Ramirez disclosed her misconduct to them ...