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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Fahrenholtz

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 7, 2017

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Terri Lynn Fahrenholtz, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0290828.

         Original Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts

          Susan M. Humiston, Director, Timothy M. Burke, First Assistant Director, Amy M. Mahowald, Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.

          Terri L. Fahrenholtz, Moorhead, Minnesota, pro se.

         SYLLABUS

         Because the disciplinary proceedings in North Dakota were fair and disbarment is neither unjust nor substantially different from the discipline warranted in Minnesota, we impose the reciprocal discipline of disbarment.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         This case involves the question of whether we should impose reciprocal discipline on respondent Terri Lynn Fahrenholtz. The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (Director) served Fahrenholtz with a petition for reciprocal disciplinary action after the North Dakota Supreme Court disbarred Fahrenholtz from the practice of law in North Dakota for misappropriating client funds and abandoning the cases of at least eight clients, In re Fahrenholtz, 863 N.W.2d 239 (N.D. 2015). We hold that North Dakota's disciplinary proceedings were fundamentally fair, and that the discipline the North Dakota Supreme Court imposed would not be unjust or substantially different from the discipline that would be imposed in Minnesota. We therefore disbar Fahrenholtz from the practice of law in Minnesota.

         FACTS

         Terri Lynn Fahrenholtz was admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota in 1999 and admitted to the North Dakota bar in 2006. Fahrenholtz, 863 N.W.2d at 239-40. In 2014, the North Dakota Disciplinary Board served a petition for discipline on Fahrenholtz. Id. at 240. Based on the investigation of a trustee appointed by the North Dakota Disciplinary Board, a hearing panel found that Fahrenholtz abandoned the cases of at least eight clients. Id. at 239-40. The panel further found that, in one bankruptcy matter, Fahrenholtz accepted a retainer from a client but neither deposited the retainer into a trust account nor refunded the retainer to the client. Id. at 240. In other cases, Fahrenholtz failed to appear for hearings, failed to file complaints, and failed to communicate with clients about the status of their cases. Id.

         Based on these findings, the hearing panel recommended that Fahrenholtz be disbarred. Id. at 241. Fahrenholtz did not object to the hearing panel's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation, so they were deemed stipulated by the North Dakota Supreme Court. Id. That court ordered Fahrenholtz disbarred in North Dakota as of May 7, 2015. Id. at 239, 241.[1]

         On July 7, 2015, the Director filed a petition for disciplinary action against Fahrenholtz, seeking reciprocal discipline under Rule 12(d) of the Minnesota Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). The Director failed in her attempts to serve Fahrenholtz personally at her last known address. The Director then applied to us for an order suspending Fahrenholtz under Rule 12(c)(1), RLPR, which allows for the suspension of an attorney who cannot be located.

         On September 1, 2015, we suspended Fahrenholtz and gave her one year in which to file a motion to vacate the suspension order. Fahrenholtz did not move to vacate the order. On October 28, 2016, we ordered Fahrenholtz to file a memorandum within 60 days to show cause why appropriate discipline should not be imposed. Fahrenholtz again failed to respond. Fahrenholtz did not file a brief, appear at oral argument, or otherwise participate in this disciplinary proceeding.

         ANALYSIS

         The issue before us is whether Fahrenholtz should be reciprocally disciplined in Minnesota based on her disbarment in North Dakota. Under Rule 12(d), RLPR, the Director may petition for reciprocal discipline based solely on knowledge, from any source, "that a lawyer licensed to practice in Minnesota has been publicly disciplined . . . in another jurisdiction." Unless we determine otherwise, a final determination in another jurisdiction that a lawyer has committed misconduct conclusively establishes that misconduct in our reciprocal discipline proceeding. Id. After a petition for reciprocal discipline has been filed, we may impose identical discipline "unless it appears that discipline procedures in the other jurisdiction were unfair, or the imposition of the same discipline would be unjust or substantially different from discipline warranted in Minnesota." Id. ...


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