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In re Fuller

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 3, 2014

DONALD BEDELLE FULLER, Petitioner.

Donald Bedelle Fuller, Bloomington, MN 55437, petitioner.

ORDER ON PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT OF ATTORNEY

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

Donald Fuller was suspended from the practice of law in Minnesota in 2001 by the Minnesota Supreme Court, and subsequently suspended from the practice of law in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota as a result of reciprocal automatic suspension. He has sought reinstatement from the Minnesota Supreme Court twice - the first time his petition for reinstatement was denied and the second time he withdrew - so he remains ineligible to practice law in the state of Minnesota. He now petitions the Court for reinstatement to practice in federal court pursuant to Local Rule 83.6(g). Because the Court concludes that none of the circumstances under which the Court may reinstate an attorney subject to suspension in a reciprocal jurisdiction are present, the Court will deny Fuller's petition for reinstatement.

BACKGROUND

Petitioner Donald Fuller graduated from law school in 1971 and was admitted to practice law in Illinois. After over a decade of practice in Illinois and service in the Marine Corps, Fuller moved to Minnesota in 1987 and was admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota in 1990.

I. BACKGROUND TO STATE COURT DISCIPLINE

In 1995, Fuller prepared a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for and represented in bankruptcy proceedings a business called Imprint Technologies, Inc. ("Imprint"), which belonged to his client Brett Hanson. In re Disciplinary Action Against Fuller, 621 N.W.2d 460, 462 (Minn. 2001) (per curiam). After discovering several practices and certain conduct by Hanson, Fuller sent Hanson a letter dated June 3, 1996 stating that he was withdrawing from representing Imprint on all matters and stating that Hanson's refusal to seek chemical dependency treatment was the reason. Id. at 463. Fuller then did not attend a hearing on behalf of Imprint the next day and did not file a motion to withdraw from another action in which he represented Imprint. Id. at 463-64. He later testified that he did not do so because Hanson threatened him and told him not to do anything and that he was afraid of Hanson. Id. at 464. On June 6 and 11, 1996, Fuller wrote letters to the opposing counsel on both matters for which he had represented Imprint, explaining that he had withdrawn from representing Imprint and Hanson because Hanson failed to receive chemical dependency treatment and because he frequently wrote bad checks. Id. Fuller later wrote letters about Hanson to more than twenty-five individuals and government entities, including Al Gore, Janet Reno, the FBI, the IRS, the Minnesota Attorney General's office, the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility ("OLPR"), judges, and creditors of Imprint. Id. The letters accused Hanson of, among other things, chemical dependency, fraud, intimidation, and murder. Id.

Hanson then filed a disciplinary complaint against Fuller with the OLPR. Id. After a hearing on September 5, 1997, the Fourth District Ethics Committee of the Hennepin County Bar Association recommended that the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board ("LPRB") further investigate both Fuller and Hanson. Id. At the suggestion of the OLPR, Fuller submitted to psychological and psychiatric evaluations, both of which determined that Fuller exhibited signs of paranoia. Id. at 465; (Aff. of Dulce J. Foster, Exs. 5, 6, Jan. 9, 2014, Docket No. 15.)

In May 1999, the OLPR requested that a panel of the LPRB find that probable cause existed either for public discipline of Fuller or placing him on disability inactive status. In re Fuller, 621 N.W.2d at 465. On November 4, 1999, the LPRB panel found probable cause for public discipline (although not for transfer to disability inactive status) and the OLPR filed a petition for disciplinary action on December 2, 1999. Id. The petition included two counts: one regarding improper withdrawal from representation, disclosure of client confidences, and failure to disclose an amount of attorneys' fees in violation of Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 1.16(c), 1.16(d), 1.5(a), 1.6, 3.3(a), 3.4(c), 4.1, 4.4, 8.4(c), and 8.4(d), and one regarding the submission of false evidence in a disciplinary investigation in violation of Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3(a)(4), 3.4(b), 8.1(a), and 8.4(c). Id. The Minnesota Supreme Court referred the petition to a referee for a hearing, and the referee recommended that the court suspend Fuller indefinitely with a one-year minimum for suspension and that the court require Fuller to successfully complete a mental health evaluation. Id.

II. MINNESOTA SUPREME COURT'S DISCIPLINARY DECISION

The Minnesota Supreme Court found that the referee did not err in finding that Fuller had violated the Rules of Professional Responsibility in several ways. First, the court found that Fuller improperly withdrew from representation of Imprint, over Fuller's objections that Hanson ordered him not to take any action to further represent Imprint and that he had a duty to withdraw once he discovered that Hanson was engaging in fraud. Id. at 466. The court found that, despite these alleged orders from Hanson, Fuller was still required to abide by the rule for withdrawal by appearing in court and moving to withdraw. Id. Second, the court found that the referee did not clearly err in concluding that Fuller improperly revealed client confidences by sending letters accusing Hanson of chemical dependency and fraud to various public officials and government entities. Id. at 466-67. The court rejected Fuller's arguments that he was required to make the disclosures, both to the bankruptcy court and in order to avoid assisting Hanson with his alleged scheme, finding that the content of his disclosures and the recipients to which he sent them exceeded any proper or required scope of disclosure. Id. at 467-68. Third, the court found no error in the referee's conclusion that Fuller failed to disclose an attorney's fee arrangement to the bankruptcy court. Id. at 468.[1] Finally, the court found that the referee did not err in concluding that Fuller submitted false or falsified evidence in the course of the disciplinary investigation. Id. at 469.

On the basis of these findings, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered on January 25, 2001, that Fuller be suspended from the practice of law in Minnesota indefinitely (although without the one-year minimum suspension as recommended by the referee) and that he be required to submit proof of sound mental health before reinstatement. Id. at 470-71. On February 1, 2001, Fuller was automatically suspended from the practice of law before this Court pursuant to then-Local Rule 83.6(b). (Foster Aff., Ex. 1.) The Bankruptcy Court issued an order to show cause, but at the hearing on the order in April 2001, Fuller advised the court that he did not intend to proceed with petitions for reinstatement of his license. ( Id., Ex. 2.)

In February 2001, Fuller filed a petition for reinstatement with the Minnesota Supreme Court, which the court denied on February 16, 2001. In re Disciplinary Action Against Fuller, 622 N.W.2d 538 (Minn. 2001). The court also ordered that "any future petition for reinstatement shall comply with Rule 18(a)-(d), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility, including the requirement that petitioner go through a reinstatement hearing." Id. Eight years later, on February 23, 2009, Fuller again filed a petition for reinstatement to practice law in Minnesota with the OLPR, but he withdrew the petition on April 4, 2009. (Foster Aff., Exs. 11-12.) According to Fuller, he withdrew the petition because he would not be able to receive a fair, unbiased and impartial panel hearing because one of the review panel members was a "self-described radical" and former spouse of a member of the Black Panthers. (Foster Aff., Ex. 12.) He has not sought reinstatement in Minnesota with the OLPR since the withdrawal of that petition.

III. THIS PROCEEDING

On July 29, 2013, Fuller filed this petition with the Court seeking reinstatement. (Pet. for Reinstatement, July 29, 2013, Docket No. 1.) Fuller seeks "restoration of the federal privileges and of all the duties of practicing law before the District Court and the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota." ( Id. at 3.) Since his suspension, he has maintained an accounting and tax practice with a company called the Tax Resolution Center ( id. at 2), and it appears that he seeks to supplement those non-legal practices with a legal practice exclusively in bankruptcy and federal district court. In a section of his petition titled "Justification for Review and Reinstatement, " he states:

The Petitioner took precautionary steps to protect the integrity of this Court and the Chapter 11 proceedings by requiring a participant in a Chapter 11 proceeding who was a Serial Bankruptcy filer and untreated alcoholic to retain individual ...

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