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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Taplin

Supreme Court of Minnesota

September 25, 2013

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Lynn M. Taplin, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 173708.

Original Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts.

Martin A. Cole, Director, Robin J. Crabb, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.

Lynn M. Taplin, Saint Paul, Minnesota, pro se.

SYLLABUS

Indefinite suspension with no right to petition for reinstatement for two years is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who committed professional misconduct including client neglect and financial misconduct involving the failure to return unearned fees in two client matters.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent Lynn M. Taplin. The petition alleged that Taplin committed professional misconduct including client neglect and financial misconduct in two client matters, and that Taplin failed to cooperate in disciplinary investigations. Taplin did not respond to the petition, and we deemed the allegations admitted. In his brief, the Director urged the court to disbar Taplin, but at oral argument suggested a five-year suspension. Although Taplin's misconduct is very serious, we do not agree that she should be disbarred. Instead, in light of Taplin's misconduct and the aggravating factors present in this case, we indefinitely suspend Taplin with no right to petition for reinstatement for two years.

Taplin was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 1986. Before the present disciplinary action, Taplin was privately admonished in June 2010 and February 2011, both times for failing to diligently handle client matters in family law proceedings. The present disciplinary action involves the following acts of professional misconduct.

J.R. Matter

In early June 2011, J.R. retained Taplin to represent him in his marriage dissolution. J.R. executed a written retainer agreement and paid a $3, 000 advance fee retainer to Taplin. In early July, Taplin mailed J.R. a bill stating that Taplin had performed 0.7 hours of work, earning $175 of the $3, 000 retainer. Between June and August, J.R. attempted repeatedly to reach Taplin by e-mail and telephone, but besides leaving one voicemail message, Taplin failed to respond.

In September 2011, the district court notified Taplin that it intended to place J.R.'s case on inactive status, and in November the court did so. In February 2012, the court dismissed J.R.'s case. Taplin did not inform J.R. that the court intended to place the case on inactive status, that the case had been placed on inactive status, or that the case had been dismissed. Taplin did not return the $2, 825 unearned portion of her retainer to J.R.

Taplin's failure to diligently represent J.R. violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.3.[1]Taplin's failure to respond to J.R.'s reasonable requests for information violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.4(a)(4).[2] And Taplin's failure to return the unearned portion of her advance fee violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.15(c)(4)[3] and 1.16(d).[4]

A.T. Matter

In late August 2011, A.T. retained Taplin to represent her in her marriage dissolution. By late September, A.T. had paid Taplin a total of $2, 400. Taplin drafted a summons and a petition for dissolution and filed the petition with the court. Taplin was notified of the case management conference, but she failed to appear. The court then notified Taplin of a review hearing and ordered her to appear. Taplin, however, failed to appear at the hearing. On November 30, 2011, the court placed A.T.'s dissolution matter on inactive status. Taplin ...


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