1. When evaluating the reasonableness of a request under Rule 25, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR), a court should ascertain whether the information sought is rationally related to the charges of professional misconduct or to a defense to those charges and should weigh the director's need for the information against the burden imposed on the lawyer.
2. The district court abused its discretion by concluding that the director's request was not reasonable under Rule 25(a), RLPR, because the court did not consider the appropriate factors in evaluating the reasonableness of the request, and the director's request was reasonable under the proper standard.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Russell A., Chief Justice
Concurring, Anderson, Paul H., J.
Dissenting, Anderson, G. Barry, and Gildea, JJ.
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
On October 12, 2004, the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility issued charges against respondent*fn1 alleging a violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.2(a), which prohibits knowingly or recklessly making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of, inter alia, a judge. In response, respondent asserted that he made the statement in question in good faith, relying on information obtained from two credible and reliable sources. However, respondent refused to disclose to the director the identities of his sources. Consequently, the director brought a motion in Ramsey County District Court seeking an order finding that his request for disclosure of respondent's sources was a "reasonable request" under Rule 25(a), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR), and that respondent therefore must comply with the request. The district court denied the motion, finding the request to be unreasonable. We granted review and now reverse.
On July 16, 2002, respondent filed as a candidate for a Minnesota state district court seat. According to respondent, on the evening of July 16, he received a telephone call from "an individual who [he] knew to be a credible and reliable source of information regarding the work habits of judges on the bench in [the relevant] [c]county." Respondent claims that this source told him that his opponent in the election, the incumbent judge, "consistently ranked as one of the highest judges in terms of absenteeism for the district bench" and that the incumbent judge's backlog of cases under advisement "exceeded that of the other judges in the District combined." The source also allegedly told respondent that "issues surrounding excessive absenteeism and case backlog" had been discussed at a district court judges' meeting in March 2002. Respondent asserts that "another credible and reliable source" verified the original source's statement about the topics discussed at the March district court judges' meeting. Respondent claims that he attempted to verify the information about the incumbent judge's case backlog, but was denied access to the cases-under-advisement records at the Minnesota Supreme Court.*fn2
On August 15, 2002, respondent's campaign issued the following statement:
The problem with my opponent's performance as a judge is that she doesn't show up, and she doesn't do the work. She has one of the highest rates of absenteeism for judges in the district, and, worse, her backlog of undecided and unfinished cases is larger than all of the other district judges combined.
As a result of this statement, an ethics complaint was filed with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR), alleging that respondent violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.2(a), which provides, "[a] lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge."
As part of the director's investigation, the director repeatedly asked respondent to disclose the identities of the sources who he claimed provided him with the information on which he based his statement, but respondent refused to do so. The director then brought a motion in Ramsey County District Court pursuant to Rule 25(a), RLPR, which requires lawyers to comply with the director's "reasonable requests" for information, seeking an order finding that his request for disclosure of respondent's sources was reasonable.
The district court denied the motion on the grounds that the request was "unreasonable and disproportionate to the complexity and gravity of the alleged ethical violation." The court faulted the director for focusing on the "singular issue" of respondent's sources, which the court characterized as simply one of many defenses raised by respondent. The court concluded that "[t]he OLPR is exaggerating the proceedings in attempting to make this something beyond what it actually is, a lawyer disciplinary action." We granted the director's petition for discretionary review.
We have not before determined the appropriate standard for reviewing a district court's ruling on a Rule 25(a) request. The parties suggest that we apply an abuse of discretion standard, analogizing to review of a district court's ruling on a discovery motion, and we agree. In the context of civil litigation, "[a] district court has broad discretion 'to issue discovery orders' and will be reversed on appeal only upon an abuse of such discretion." Minn. Twins P'ship v. State ex rel. Hatch, 592 N.W.2d 847, 850 (Minn. 1999) (quoting Shetka v. Kueppers, Kueppers, Von Feldt & Salmen, 454 N.W.2d 916, 921 (Minn. 1990)). Rule 25(a) requests are analogous to civil discovery requests in that both provide a method for a party to obtain information relevant to its claim from another party. In light of the similarities between Rule 25(a) requests and discovery motions and in view of our delegation of oversight of Rule 25(a) requests to another court, we conclude that review for abuse of discretion is appropriate. See In re N.P., 361 N.W.2d 386, 392 (Minn. 1985). Applying this standard of review, the issue presented in this case is whether the district court abused its discretion by concluding that the director's request that respondent reveal the identities of his sources was not a reasonable request under Rule 25(a), RLPR.*fn3
Rule 25(a) requires a lawyer subject to investigation or proceedings under the Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility to cooperate with the director by ...