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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Hummel

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 6, 2013

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Tucker Joseph Hummel, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 286230.

Office of Appellate Courts Original Jurisdiction

Martin A. Cole, Director, Craig D. Klausing, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.

Tucker Joseph Hummel, Hopkins, Minnesota, pro se.

SYLLABUS

Disbarment is the appropriate sanction for an attorney who misappropriated client funds, failed to keep required trust account books and records, made false statements to the Director, and failed to cooperate with the disciplinary investigation.

OPINION

PER CURIAM

The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (Director) filed two petitions for disciplinary action against respondent Tucker Joseph Hummel. In these petitions, the Director alleges that Hummel intentionally misappropriated client funds, failed to maintain required trust account books and records, made false statements to the Director, and failed to cooperate with the disciplinary investigation. We referred the matter to a referee. The referee found that Hummel committed the professional misconduct alleged in the petitions and recommended disbarment as the appropriate discipline. Because of the referee's recommendation, we temporarily suspended Hummel from the practice of law pending final resolution of this matter. See Rule 16(e), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). Based on the professional misconduct that Hummel committed, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction.

I.

The misconduct in this case falls into three general categories: intentional misappropriation of client funds, trust account violations, and misrepresentation to and failure to cooperate with the Director. We discuss the referee's findings and conclusions with respect to each of these categories in turn.

Misappropriation.

Hummel represented G.R. in her capacity as personal representative of her mother's estate. On April 4, 2011, Hummel received a check for $10, 794.04 on G.R.'s behalf. The check represented the proceeds from the sale of G.R.'s mother's house and was an asset of her mother's estate, in which G.R.'s brother held a partial interest. Hummel deposited the check in his client trust account. On nine separate occasions between April 15 and April 22, 2011, Hummel misappropriated more than $10, 000 of G.R.'s funds by initiating transfers and writing checks to himself from the trust account. Hummel also failed to respond to G.R.'s numerous attempts to contact him regarding the distribution of her mother's estate. The referee found that Hummel's misappropriation of G.R.'s funds and failure to communicate with G.R. violated Rules 1.4[1] and 8.4(c), [2] Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC).

Trust Account Violations.

Hummel's client trust account was overdrawn on January 20, 2011. The bank reported the overdraft to the Director, and the Director wrote to Hummel requesting an explanation for the overdraft and copies of related trust account books and records. Hummel provided the Director with client ledgers and trust account statements that revealed shortages in Hummel's trust account for the period between November 17, 2010, and February 17, 2011. The Director notified Hummel of the shortages. Hummel denied that the account was short, but he was unable either to explain the shortages or to produce accurate trust account books and records.

While investigating the January 20, 2011 overdraft, the Director received notice that Hummel's trust account was overdrawn a second time on April 22, 2011. The referee found that Hummel's failure to maintain required trust account books and records ...


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