Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-11-5413
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bjorkman, Judge
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
Considered and decided by Stauber, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Bjorkman, Judge.
UNPUBLISHED OPINION BJORKMAN, Judge
Appellant law firm brought this action against respondent, a former client, for payment of fees. The district court awarded judgment to respondent. We affirm the district court's determinations that appellant may not recover fees under contracts to which it was not a party, may not recover fees other than those agreed to in the contracts, and forfeited $500 by failing to maintain contact with respondent during his detention. We conclude that the district court erred in determining that appellant's representation of respondent at a plea colloquy amounted to misconduct and modify the district court's judgment accordingly.
In 2000, respondent Emeka Abosi, an immigrant, first retained immigration attorney Herbert A. Igbanugo, then of the Blackwell Igbanugo P.A. law firm. Igbanugo successfully obtained a green card denoting lawful permanent resident status for respondent, who paid the agreed fee.
In January 2002, when respondent returned from a trip to Nigeria, airport customs officials found .7 grams of marijuana and rolling papers in his luggage. He was issued a $100 citation, which he paid through the mail, for the small amount of marijuana.
Respondent again left the United States; and when he returned in November 2002, he was detained because of the marijuana conviction. While detained, he admitted that he ate food cooked with marijuana while out of the country and that he has been convicted of three alcohol-related driving offenses. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) charged respondent with being an inadmissible or removable person and began deportation proceedings.
In March 2004, respondent contracted with Blackwell Igbanugo to represent him in connection with the deportation proceedings for $4,000. In August 2004, he contracted with the firm to assist him with a status-adjustment application for $2,750; and in October 2005, he contracted for representation in connection with an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for $5,000. During 2004 and 2005, respondent paid attorney fees in the amount of $4,000.*fn1
In April 2008, respondent contacted Igbanugo to help him vacate his marijuana conviction and pursue his appeal to the BIA. By that time, Igbanugo had left Blackwell Igbanugo and founded appellant Igbanugo Partners International Law Firm, PLLC. The parties agreed that Igbanugo would handle these two matters for $8,000.
In December 2008, Igbanugo secured the Hennepin County prosecutor's agreement to vacate the marijuana conviction in exchange for respondent's plea of guilt to the lesser charge of a nuisance misdemeanor. During the plea colloquy, respondent was examined by the prosecutor and answered "Yes" when asked if his luggage contained "some marijuana paraphernalia or marijuana, itself." As a result of this testimony, ICE again charged respondent with being an inadmissible person.
In July 2009, respondent contracted with Igbanugo Partners for representation in connection with a motion to the BIA to terminate removal proceedings for $2,500. The last contract between the parties was formed in August 2009 when respondent sought representation in connection ...