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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Nwaneri

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 7, 2017

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Patrick Chinedu Nwaneri, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0322003.

         Original Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts

          Susan M. Humiston, Director, Binh T. Tuong, Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.

          Patrick C. Nwaneri, Saint Paul, Minnesota, pro se.

         SYLLBUS

         1. The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility did not violate Rules 7 and 8, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility, when she decided not to accept the recommendation of a district ethics committee and instead filed a petition for disciplinary action against the respondent.

         2. Rules 8.4(c) and 8.4(d) of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct apply to a lawyer's conduct committed in the course of representing a client.

         3. A 30-day suspension is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who filed an untimely brief, made a false statement under oath by signing and filing an affidavit containing false information, and then initially lied about the reason for the late filing during the disciplinary investigation.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (Director) filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent Patrick Chinedu Nwaneri. The petition alleged that Nwaneri filed an untimely brief, made a false statement under oath by signing and filing an affidavit containing false information, and then initially lied about the reason for the late filing during the disciplinary investigation. We appointed a referee, who concluded that Nwaneri committed the alleged misconduct and recommended a public reprimand. Nwaneri contends that the Director failed to comply with applicable rules during the disciplinary investigation, and that the false statement in the affidavit did not violate Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(c) and (d). Both parties challenge the recommended discipline. We reject Nwaneri's claim that the Director failed to comply with applicable rules during the disciplinary investigation, as well as Nwaneri's interpretation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(c) and (d). We further conclude that the appropriate discipline for Nwaneri's misconduct is a 30-day suspension.

         FACTS

         Our recitation of the facts comes from the referee's findings. Those findings, and the legal conclusions the referee drew from them, are conclusive because neither party ordered a transcript of the hearing before the referee. See Rule 14(e), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR).[1] We admitted Nwaneri to the practice of law in Minnesota on October 25, 2002. In 2013, Nwaneri represented a client in a personal injury action against the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority appealed the district court's denial of its motion to dismiss, and filed a brief in support of the appeal. Nwaneri's brief to the court of appeals was due on June 18, 2014. On May 23, 2014, Nwaneri filed a motion to dismiss the appeal and stay the briefing deadline until the court decided his motion. The court of appeals denied Nwaneri's motion to dismiss and retained the July 18 due date for his brief.

         On June 18, 2014, Nwaneri filed a motion to extend the briefing deadline until July 21. Two days later, the court of appeals extended the due date for Nwaneri's brief to June 30. On June 30, 2014, Nwaneri signed affidavits of service for the brief to opposing counsel and the court of appeals, affixed postage to mailing envelopes containing the brief, and placed the envelopes on his receptionist's desk for pickup the next morning by the United States Postal Service. The affidavit of service on opposing counsel stated, in relevant part:

On June 30, 2014, I served on Appellant's Counsel, . . . via United States Postal Service priority mail, postage prepaid, true, correct and conforming copies of the following: (i) Appellee/Respondent's Brief, and (ii) This Affidavit of Service.

         Nwaneri's notarized signature, dated June 30, 2014, was included on the affidavit. But the brief was not mailed on June 30, as the affidavit stated, nor on July 1, the date Nwaneri expected it would be mailed. Rather, the brief was mailed on July 2.

         Opposing counsel filed a complaint with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility a week later. According to the complaint, post office tracking records showed that the brief was not mailed until July 2, 2014, despite the affidavit's assertion that it was mailed on June 30. In August 2014, the Director notified Nwaneri of the complaint against ...


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