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In re Petition for Reinstatement of Stockman

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 21, 2017

In re Petition for Reinstatement of Louis Andrew Stockman, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0241210

         Office of Appellate Courts Original Jurisdiction

          John M. Degnan, Tara R. Duginske, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for petitioner.

          Susan M. Humiston, Director, Timothy M. Burke, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The panel's finding that petitioner has not proven a moral change was clearly erroneous. Based on our independent review of the record, we conclude that petitioner has proven by clear and convincing evidence that he has undergone a moral change.

         2. Because petitioner has shown by clear and convincing evidence that he has satisfied the requirements for reinstatement to the practice of law in Minnesota, we reinstate petitioner, subject to a 2-year period of supervised probation.

         Petition granted.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         Petitioner Louis Andrew Stockman seeks reinstatement to the practice of law under Rule 18, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). Stockman has been the subject of two prior public disciplinary actions, both resulting in suspension. A panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board recommended against reinstatement, finding that Stockman had "not proven by clear and convincing evidence that he has undergone a moral change." The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (Director) agrees with the recommendation of the panel. Stockman challenges the panel's finding that he has not demonstrated the requisite moral change.

         We hold that the panel's finding that Stockman has not proven a moral change was clearly erroneous. Based on our independent review of the record, we further hold that Stockman has proven by clear and convincing evidence that he has undergone a moral change. Because Stockman has shown by clear and convincing evidence that he has satisfied the requirements for reinstatement to the practice of law in Minnesota, we grant the petition and reinstate Stockman, subject to a 2-year period of supervised probation.

         FACTS

         Petitioner Louis Andrew Stockman was admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota in 1993. Following his admission to the bar, Stockman worked, briefly for a solo practitioner, and then for 12 years at a private law firm. In 2006, Stockman left that firm to open a practice in Duluth, which later became Stockman Law Office, where he practiced personal injury and workers' compensation law.

          Stockman has been previously subject to two public disciplinary proceedings and one private admonition. The first proceeding involved trust-account and client-related misconduct that Stockman committed between 2005 and 2010. Stockman's trust-account misconduct included trust-account shortages, commingling client funds and earned fees, failing to maintain trust-account books and records, and failing to return a disputed fee to the trust account. Stockman's client-related misconduct involved improperly loaning money to clients, failing to adequately communicate the basis and rate of his fees, charging an unreasonable fee, and failing to properly establish the lack of an attorney-client relationship, which eventually led to a default judgment for the client. In addition, Stockman neglected client matters by failing to respond to a lawsuit, which resulted in a default judgment, failing to timely respond to discovery requests, failing to diligently pursue cases within the statute of limitations, and failing to respond to settlement offers. In February 2012, we indefinitely suspended Stockman with no right to petition for reinstatement for 5 months. In re Stockman, 811 N.W.2d 584, 585 (Minn. 2012) (order).

         Shortly after his February 2012 suspension, the Director began investigating allegations of additional client-related misconduct, including neglect and noncommunication in two client matters, failing to respond to communications from opposing counsel, failing to timely respond to discovery requests, making a false statement to opposing counsel, and failing to properly supervise another lawyer in his law firm. Stockman also failed to comply with our suspension order by failing to notify parties of his suspension under Rule 26, RLPR, falsely certifying that he had complied with Rule 26, RLPR, holding himself out as licensed to practice law while he was suspended, and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law while suspended. In July 2012, the Director filed a petition for disciplinary action and later filed a supplementary petition. Stockman unconditionally admitted the allegations of misconduct. In February 2013, we extended Stockman's indefinite suspension with no right to petition for reinstatement by 6 months. In re Stockman, 826 N.W.2d 530 (Minn. 2013) (order).

         While suspended, Stockman remained employed at Stockman Law Office as a legal assistant supervised by another attorney. Shortly after our second suspension order in February 2013, Stockman's supervising attorney resigned from Stockman Law Office, which by then was known as Injury Law. As a result, the firm had no attorneys to represent its clients. Stockman successfully petitioned a court to appoint a receiver to wind down the firm's operations. As a result of the receivership, in October 2013, Stockman sold the assets of the firm to two attorneys, who integrated the firm into their practice, Vukelich & Malban. Stockman began work as a legal assistant under the supervision of the named partners at Vukelich & Malban, where he remains employed today.

         Stockman first petitioned for reinstatement in May 2012, but withdrew the petition after the Director filed the second petition for disciplinary action in July 2012. After our second suspension order in February 2013, Stockman filed his second petition for reinstatement in December 2013. After a panel recommended against reinstatement, Stockman withdrew the petition. We dismissed the petition in February 2015.

         In April 2015, Stockman filed his current petition for reinstatement. A panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board held a hearing, at which Stockman presented four witnesses and testified on his own behalf. The Director presented no witnesses. The panel determined that Stockman had "not proven by clear and convincing evidence that he has undergone a moral change" and recommended against reinstatement. The Director agrees with the panel's recommendation. Stockman challenges the panel's factual findings, conclusions, and recommendation.

         ANALYSIS

         The responsibility for determining whether to reinstate an attorney rests solely with this court. In re Kadrie, 602 N.W.2d 868, 870 (Minn. 1999). A panel's recommendation on reinstatement "receives no deference, " and "[w]e independently review the entire record to determine whether an attorney should be reinstated." In re Dedefo, 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn. 2010); accord In re Singer, 735 N.W.2d 698, 703 (Minn. 2007). When a party orders a transcript of the panel hearing, as in this case, we uphold the panel's factual findings if they have evidentiary support in the record and are not clearly erroneous. In re Mose, 843 N.W.2d 570, 573 (Minn. 2014). Factual findings are clearly erroneous if, after reviewing the record, we are " 'left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.' " In re Lyons, 780 N.W.2d 629, 635 (Minn. 2010) (quoting Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987)).

         A suspended attorney seeking reinstatement bears the burden of establishing that reinstatement should be granted. See In re Jellinger, 728 N.W.2d 917, 922-23 (Minn. 2007). Requirements for reinstatement include (1) compliance with the conditions of suspension, In re Mose, 754 N.W.2d 357, 360 (Minn. 2008), (2) compliance with the requirements of Rule 18, RLPR, and (3) demonstration of a moral change, Kadrie, 602 N.W.2d at 870. In addition to these requirements, we weigh five other factors: the attorney's recognition that the conduct was wrong, the length of time since the misconduct and suspension, the seriousness of the misconduct, any physical or mental pressures "susceptible to correction, " and the attorney's "intellectual competency to practice law." Kadrie, 602 N.W.2d at 870. Because ...


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