In re Petition for Reinstatement of Larry Severson, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0099363
Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts
T. Cooperstein, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for petitioner.
M. Humiston, Director, Jennifer S. Bovitz, Senior Assistant
Director, Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility,
Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.
Based on our independent review of the record, the
panel's finding that petitioner has proven that he has
undergone the requisite moral change was not clearly
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 probation.
Larry S. Severson has filed a petition for reinstatement to
the practice of law. In 2015, we indefinitely suspended
Severson, with no right to petition for reinstatement for at
least 1 year. After considering Severson's petition, a
panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board
recommended reinstatement, concluding that Severson had
"prove[n] by clear and convincing evidence that he has
undergone the requisite moral change to render him fit to
resume the practice of law and has demonstrated sufficient
remorse for his misconduct." The Director of the Office
of Lawyers Professional Responsibility challenges a number of
the panel's findings and disagrees with the panel's
recommendation. Based on our independent review of the
record, we hold that the panel's finding that Severson
has undergone the necessary moral change was not clearly
erroneous. Because Severson 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 Severson, subject to a 2-year
period of probation.
was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 1975. On
February 18, 2015, we indefinitely suspended Severson, with
no right to petition for reinstatement for a minimum of 1
year, for improper business dealings with a client and
misrepresentation. In re Severson, 860 N.W.2d 658,
662-63, 674-75 (Minn. 2015). The misconduct for which
Severson was disciplined centered on his dealings with D.S.,
a young woman whose parents had died when she was an infant
and who lived with Severson's family as a teenager.
Id. at 663. D.S. was the beneficiary of insurance
proceeds following her parents' deaths, and her
inheritance was placed in a conservatorship. Id.
After her eighteenth birthday in April 1996, D.S. received
approximately $500, 000, the funds that had been in the
offered to invest the $500, 000 that D.S. had received from
the conservatorship, and in June 1996, the two entered into
an investment agreement. Id. At that time, an
attorney-client relationship existed between D.S. and
Severson. Id. at 667. The investment agreement
created a conflict of interest, and Severson's failure to
obtain the consent of D.S. was a violation of Minn. R. Prof.
Conduct. 1.7(b) (1996). Severson, 860 N.W.2d at 668.
Severson also violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct. 1.8(a) (1996),
when he entered into the investment agreement with D.S.
Severson, 860 N.W.2d at 668. The terms of the
investment agreement were unfair and unreasonable because
they did not provide "security for D.S.'s
investment, limit the types of investments Severson could
make, or provide for a penalty, or the recovery of her funds
if Severson did not comply with the agreement."
Id. Severson also "did not adequately explain
the transaction to D.S. or advise her to seek independent
counsel." Id. at 672.
2007, D.S. asked Severson to return the $500, 000.
Id. at 664. Severson did not repay D.S., and by
2008, Severson "was in serious financial trouble."
Id. In 2007, Severson acquired an equine facility
that he later sold on a contract for deed. Id. The
purchasers defaulted on the contract for deed and Severson
then assigned his seller's interest in the facility to
D.S. as security for what he owed her "and had D.S. sign
a $250, 000 mortgage regarding their interest in the equine
center." Id. Severson once again violated Minn.
R. Prof. Conduct 1.7(a)(2), 1.7(b), and 1.8(a),
when he assigned his seller's interest to D.S.
Severson, 860 N.W.2d at 665, 666 n.5. He also acted
dishonestly, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(c)
(2008), by having D.S. assign and mortgage her interest in
the equine center to his creditors without telling D.S. that
his financial insecurity necessitated the assignments and
that her funds could be at risk. Severson, 860
N.W.2d at 669.
eventually hired an attorney to help her recover the $500,
000 principal. Id. at 664. She sued Severson, and
the parties reached a settlement in December 2010.
Id. After paying her attorney fees, D.S. recovered
just $300, 000 of the original $500, 000 that she had given
to Severson to invest. Id.
made misrepresentations to D.S. during the course of their
legal dispute and to the Director during the disciplinary
investigation, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct
8.1(a)-(b), 8.4(c)-(d). Severson, 860 N.W.2d at
664-65, 669, 672. Severson gave the attorney for D.S.
misleading invoices for purported past legal services he had
provided to D.S., in an attempt to reduce the amount he owed
her. Id. at 664-65, 672. Severson also made a number
of misrepresentations to the Director regarding where the
funds of D.S. were invested and the legitimacy of his
invoices for legal services. Id.
misconduct described above, we indefinitely suspended
Severson. Id. at 674-75. Severson filed his first
petition for reinstatement in 2016. In re Severson,
889 N.W.2d 291, 291 (Minn. 2016) (order). After conducting a
hearing, the panel found that Severson did not prove by clear
and convincing evidence that he recognized the wrongfulness
of his conduct or that he had undergone the requisite moral
change. Id. Accordingly, the panel recommended that
we deny Severson's petition. Id. Neither party
challenged that recommendation, and we denied the petition.
7, 2017, Severson filed the current petition for
reinstatement. A panel considered his petition at a hearing.
Severson's evidence included a letter he wrote to D.S.
and progress notes prepared by K.A., Severson's therapist
since February 2017. Severson, K.A., and two character
witnesses, S.P. and D.D., testified. The panel issued its
findings of fact and recommended that we grant Severson's
petition for reinstatement. The Director challenges several
of the panel's findings of fact and recommendation.
the sole responsibility for determining whether an attorney
should be reinstated to the practice of law. In re
Kadrie, 602 N.W.2d 868, 870 (Minn. 1999). To determine
whether reinstatement is appropriate, "[w]e
independently review the entire record." In re
Singer, 735 N.W.2d 698, 703 (Minn. 2007). Although we
consider the panel's recommendations, we are not bound by
them. Id. Where, as here, a transcript has been
ordered, "we will defer to the panel's credibility
assessments and uphold the panel's factual findings if
those determinations have factual support in the record and
are not clearly erroneous." In re Mose, 843
N.W.2d 570, 573 (Minn. 2014). To conclude that the findings
are clearly erroneous, "we must be '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)).
suspended attorney "bears the burden of establishing
that reinstatement should be granted." In re
Stockman, 896 N.W.2d 851, 856 (Minn. 2017).
Reinstatement requirements include: "(1) compliance with
the conditions of suspension, (2) compliance with the
requirements of Rule 18, [Rules on Lawyers Professional
Responsibility] RLPR, and (3) demonstration of a moral
change." Id. (citations omitted). Beyond these
three requirements, we "weigh five other factors."
Id. Those factors are: "(1) the
petitioner's recognition of the wrongfulness of his
conduct; (2) the length of time since the original misconduct
and the suspension; (3) the seriousness of the original
misconduct; (4) the existence of physical or mental illness
or pressures that are susceptible to correction; and (5) the
petitioner's intellectual competency to practice
law." Singer, 735 N.W.2d at 703. Because the
parties agree that Severson complied with the conditions of
his suspension and has completed the requirements of Rule 18,
RLPR, the only dispute before us is whether Severson has
demonstrated the requisite moral change and whether the five
factors weigh in favor of Severson's reinstatement.
of moral change "is the most important factor" in
determining whether an attorney should be reinstated.
Stockman, 896 N.W.2d at 857. An attorney seeking
reinstatement "must establish by clear and convincing
evidence that she or he has undergone such a moral change as
now to render him a fit person to enjoy the public confidence
and trust once forfeited." In re Jellinger, 728
N.W.2d 917, 922 (Minn. 2007) (internal quotation marks
omitted) (citation omitted). The requisite moral change
"must be such that if the petitioner were reinstated,
'clients could submit their most intimate and important
affairs to him with complete confidence in both his
competence and fidelity.'" Kadrie, 602
N.W.2d at 870 (quoting In re Herman, 197 N.W.2d 241,
244 (Minn. 1972)). In general, "to prove moral change a
lawyer must show remorse and acceptance of responsibility for
the misconduct, a change in the lawyer's conduct and
state of mind that corrects the underlying misconduct that
led to the suspension, and a renewed commitment to the
ethical practice of law." Mose, 843 N.W.2d at
575. The evidence of this moral change" 'must come
not only from an observed record of appropriate conduct, but
from the petitioner's own state of mind and his
values.'" Id. (quoting In re
Swanson, 405 N.W.2d 892, 893 (Minn. 1987)).
and acceptance of ...