In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Thomas G. Harrigan, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 132378.
Original Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts
Martin A. Cole, Director, Timothy M. Burke, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.
Thomas G. Harrigan, Savage, Minnesota, pro se.
Where respondent misappropriated client funds amounting to over $130, 000, made misrepresentations to a client about those funds, and failed to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation, the appropriate discipline is disbarment.
On March 12, 2013, the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) filed a petition for disciplinary action against Thomas G. Harrigan. The petition alleged that Harrigan's misappropriation of funds from and misrepresentations to his former client L.S. constituted professional misconduct. The petition also alleged that Harrigan's misrepresentations to the Director and failure to cooperate during the disciplinary investigation were acts of professional misconduct. On April 8, 2013, the Director filed a supplementary petition for disciplinary action against Harrigan. The supplementary petition added three new counts of professional misconduct, including additional misappropriation from L.S., misappropriation from former client N.W., and additional failure to cooperate during the disciplinary investigation. Although Harrigan filed an answer to the original petition, Harrigan's answer was stricken due to his multiple failures to respond to discovery. The allegations in the petitions were then deemed admitted. On June 25, 2013, a referee conducted a hearing on these petitions, which Harrigan did not attend, and issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a recommendation for discipline. The referee recommended, and the Director agrees, that Harrigan be disbarred.
Harrigan was admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota on October 30, 1981. He has not been the subject of any prior discipline. The misconduct at issue arose from Harrigan's representation of two separate clients, L.S. and N.W., and Harrigan's subsequent failure to cooperate with the OLPR.
A. L.S. Matter
Harrigan represented L.S. in her capacity as personal representative of the estate of Rita Kotrba. At the time she retained Harrigan, L.S., a former secretary with a high school education, was approximately 75 years old. As the personal representative, L.S. received a check for $125, 857.35 from CNA Financial Corporation in December 2009 for the proceeds from Kotrba's Individual Retirement Account (IRA). L.S. gave this check to Harrigan, who then deposited the funds in his trust account. In addition to serving as personal representative of the estate, L.S. had been designated as the beneficiary of the IRA proceeds, and thus the funds were held in trust for her. In March 2010, L.S. requested a check to pay for income taxes on the CNA funds, and Harrigan paid L.S. $25, 000 from the IRA proceeds. This was the only money L.S. ever received from the IRA proceeds, as Harrigan, without L.S.'s knowledge or consent, paid the remaining $100, 857.35 entirely to himself over the next two years. Harrigan, who was not entitled to the funds, never provided L.S. with an accounting of the funds.
In approximately April 2011, Harrigan received a redemption check from Vanguard, an investment firm, payable to "THOMAS G. HARRIGAN ADM EST RITA KOTRBA, " in the amount of $6, 938.29 for the proceeds of one of Kotrba's accounts. Harrigan, who did not inform L.S. that he received these funds, subsequently deposited them into his trust account. By December 2011, Harrigan had paid all of the Vanguard funds to himself without the knowledge or consent of L.S. Again, Harrigan was not entitled to the funds and never provided L.S. with an accounting.
Beginning in late 2011, Harrigan falsely told L.S. that a claim had been made against her regarding the distribution of Kotrba's assets, and that he could not make any distributions to her from the CNA funds because the account was frozen. Harrigan also falsely told L.S. that he was attempting to arrange to arbitrate the claim and that the claimants were represented by a lawyer from another state. Around August 2012, L.S. retained new counsel. Her new counsel repeatedly attempted to contact Harrigan by phone and mail, requesting documentation of the purported claim that led to freezing of the account and the delayed distribution of the CNA funds. Harrigan initially provided a few documents from his representation of L.S., but did not supply documents relating to the claim, and did not release the CNA funds. Except for his initial and entirely inadequate response, Harrigan never responded to substitute counsel's repeated requests for documentation.
Based on these events, the referee found that Harrigan had misappropriated over $106, 000 of L.S.'s funds. L.S. testified before the referee that this theft had caused her substantial stress, and that the money taken would have been helpful to her and her husband. Harrigan, who did not appear at the referee hearing or submit a brief in this ...