In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Steven Michael O'Brien, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0389745.
Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts
M. Humiston, Director, Binh T. Tuong, Megan Engelhardt,
Assistant Directors, Office of Lawyers Professional
Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.
Michael O'Brien, Solana Beach, California, pro se.
is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who
misappropriated over $300, 000 from a trust fund, failed to
represent a client adequately, and failed to cooperate with
the disciplinary investigation.
Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility
served Steven O'Brien with a petition for disciplinary
action after he failed to appear on behalf of his client and
exhibited other misconduct in handling the client's
matter. O'Brien did not respond to the petition. On the
Director's motion, we deemed the allegations in the
petition admitted. Shortly thereafter, we granted the
Director's motion to suspend briefing to allow for
investigation of an additional complaint. After this
investigation, the Director filed a supplemental petition for
disciplinary action, alleging that O'Brien
misappropriated over $300, 000 from funds held in trust for a
beneficiary. O'Brien filed an answer to the supplemental
petition, and we referred the matter to a referee. The
referee recommended that O'Brien be disbarred. We agree
that the appropriate discipline in this case is disbarment.
facts of the case are not in dispute. In April 2012, O'Brien
agreed to represent D. F. in a lawsuit against an automobile
repair service. D.F. provided O'Brien with documents
relevant to the lawsuit and an advance in the amount of $750.
During the course of the representation, D.F. paid
O'Brien $1, 700 for fees and costs. In the months after
he was retained, O'Brien prepared a summons and
complaint, served these documents on the defendant, and filed
them with the district court. O'Brien also prepared and
served discovery requests on the defendant. The district
court subsequently scheduled a date for a pretrial conference
and established dates for pretrial disclosure of witnesses,
exhibits, and other trial materials.
O'Brien's representation of D.F., O'Brien
continually failed to respond to D.F.'s telephone and
e-mail messages. On September 12, 2014, O'Brien failed to
appear for the scheduled pretrial conference and failed to
file the pretrial disclosures ordered by the district court.
On September 26, the court ordered O'Brien to pay $750 as
a sanction for failing to appear at the pretrial conference.
Although the district court directed that the sanction be
paid within ten days, O'Brien paid it in $250 monthly
installments from January through March 2015.
was scheduled to start on Monday, October 6, 2014. On Friday,
October 3, O'Brien notified D.F., by letter, that he
would no longer represent him. Because O'Brien withdrew
from the representation, D.F. appeared at the trial pro se.
The district court denied D.F.'s request for additional
time to obtain new counsel. The district court dismissed the
lawsuit with prejudice and ordered D.F. to pay $522 for the
defendant's costs and disbursements. After O'Brien
withdrew from the representation, D.F. asked O'Brien to
return the file to him. O'Brien failed to do so.
December 2014, D.F. submitted a complaint to the Director
against O'Brien. The Director and the investigator for
the District Ethics Committee requested information and
responses from O'Brien, by letters and by phone, on
multiple occasions. O'Brien did not respond to these
inquiries. On September 24, 2015, the Director filed
a petition for disciplinary action against O'Brien based
on the D.F. complaint. O'Brien did not file an answer to
the petition. We therefore granted the Director's motion
for summary relief and deemed the allegations in the petition
admitted. Rule 13(b), Rules on Lawyers Professional
Responsibility (RLPR) (stating that the allegations of a
complaint are deemed admitted if a respondent fails to answer
within the time provided to do so). Shortly thereafter, we
granted the Director's motion to suspend briefing to
allow her to investigate an additional complaint.
Director's additional investigation related to
allegations regarding O'Brien's failure to account
for funds in a trust for which he served as trustee.
Specifically, O'Brien was appointed as the sole successor
trustee of the revocable trust agreement of M.J. after M.J.
died in 2013. The beneficiary of the trust was the Order of
St. Benedict, St. John's Abbey (the Abbey). In March
2014, O'Brien established a trust checking account at
U.S. Bank; he was the only person authorized to conduct
transactions on the account. On September 23, 2014,
O'Brien deposited $190, 090.13 into the account,
representing the proceeds from the sale of M.J.'s
residence. O'Brien withdrew $903 in cash when he made
this initial deposit. Between September 2014 ...