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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Matson

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 18, 2017

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Jesse David Matson, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0389131.

         Original Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts

          Susan M. Humiston, Director, Joshua H. Brand, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.

          Jesse D. Matson, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, pro se.

         SYLLABUS

         Disbarment is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who misappropriated client funds, made false statements to clients, fabricated a document, neglected and abandoned numerous clients, failed to abide by court rules, filed a frivolous motion, failed to place client funds in trust, failed to return unearned fees, used improper fee agreements, failed to cooperate with the investigation of several disciplinary complaints, and was suspended by the North Dakota Supreme Court.

         Disbarred.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (Director) filed a petition for disciplinary action seeking reciprocal discipline and a supplementary petition for disciplinary action against respondent Jesse David Matson. The Director alleged that Matson committed financial misconduct by misappropriating client funds, failing to place client funds in trust, failing to return unearned fees, and using improper fee agreements. The Director further alleged that Matson committed dishonest conduct by making false statements to clients and fabricating a document. The other alleged misconduct in the petitions included neglecting and abandoning numerous client matters, failing to communicate with numerous clients, failing to abide by court rules, filing a frivolous motion, failing to cooperate with the investigation of several disciplinary complaints, and being placed on suspension by the North Dakota Supreme Court. We deemed the allegations admitted after Matson did not respond to either petition. The sole issue before us is the appropriate discipline. We conclude that it is disbarment.

         Matson was admitted to practice law in Minnesota on October 31, 2008, and in North Dakota on October 10, 2011. On August 31, 2015, the North Dakota Supreme Court suspended Matson for 6 months and 1 day. In re Matson, 869 N.W.2d 128, 129 (N.D. 2015). The Director filed a petition for disciplinary action seeking reciprocal discipline. See Rule 12(d), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR) (authorizing the Director to file a petition for discipline upon learning "that a lawyer licensed in Minnesota has been publicly disciplined . . . in another jurisdiction"). After receiving and investigating additional client complaints against Matson, the Director filed a supplementary petition for disciplinary action. Matson did not serve or file an answer to either the petition or the supplementary petition. We therefore deemed the allegations of the petition and supplementary petition admitted. See Rule 13(b), RLPR (stating that if the respondent fails to file an answer, "the allegations" in the disciplinary petition "shall be deemed admitted"); see also Rule 12(d), RLPR (stating that a final adjudication by another jurisdiction that a lawyer has committed misconduct "shall establish conclusively the misconduct for purposes of disciplinary proceedings in Minnesota"). We also invited the parties to submit written proposals on the appropriate discipline. The Director recommended disbarment, while Matson argued for a suspension and placement on disability inactive status.[1]

         Matson's misconduct, occurring between 2013 and 2015, covered seven Minnesota client matters and three North Dakota client matters. We summarize the primary instances of misconduct below. Misappropriation

         With respect to the Minnesota misconduct, Matson misappropriated client funds, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(c) and 8.4(d), from his client C.B. C.B. provided Matson with a check for $550 to file a petition for review with our court. Matson submitted the petition to the Clerk of the Appellate Courts on July 21, 2015. But because the petition failed to comply with applicable rules, the clerk rejected the petition and returned it to Matson, along with the $550 filing fee. Matson did not refund the $550 to C.B. or make further attempts to file the petition in compliance with the rules. Failure to Safekeep Property and Improper Fee Agreements

         Matson failed to keep his clients' property safe and failed to return unearned fees and client files, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.15(a), 1.15(c)(3), 1.15(c)(4), and 1.16(d). From 2013 to 2015, Matson did not maintain either a North Dakota or Minnesota IOLTA account. He did not put funds he received from four clients (C.B., K.W., L.I., and T.K.) into a trust account. Matson also failed to provide four clients (C.B., K.W., L.I., and B.F.) with billing statements or invoices accounting for his use of their funds, and, after accepting a total of $9, 000 in retainer fees from three clients (K.W., L.I., and T.K.), he did not return any unearned fees to those clients. Finally, Matson failed to return client files to each of his seven Minnesota clients (C.B., M.W., K.W., L.I., B.F., T.K., and R.O.), even after they requested that he do so.

         Additionally, Matson entered into improper fee agreements with three of his clients, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.5(b)(3) and 1.5(c). Matson entered into an oral contingent fee agreement with M.W. in October 2013. His fee agreements with K.W. and L.I. improperly referred to their retainers as "non-refundable." Dishonesty

         Matson engaged in dishonesty in the course of his representation of three clients, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 4.1 and 8.4(c). When C.B. repeatedly requested that Matson send the district court paperwork to clarify a May 2015 order, Matson told C.B. that he had already done so. Matson provided C.B. with a copy of a letter dated July 12, 2015, that he purportedly sent to the court and to the counsel for C.B.'s ex-husband. Matson, however, fabricated the letter and falsely told C.B. that he had sent the letter to the court and opposing counsel.

         In addition, Matson falsely told two other clients that he had scheduled hearings when he had not actually done so. In August and September 2015, Matson told K.W. that he had scheduled hearings by conference call in her matter. But K.W. telephoned the court and was informed that Matson had not filed any papers and no hearing had been scheduled. Similarly, in late February or early March 2014, Matson told B.F. that he had scheduled a hearing to clarify a district court order finding B.F.'s ...


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