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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Sklar

Supreme Court of Minnesota

May 15, 2019

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Lori J. Sklar, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0208218.

          Original Jurisdiction Office of Appellate Courts

          Susan M. Humiston, Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for petitioner.

          Lori J. Sklar, Minnetonka, Minnesota, pro se.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The disciplinary proceedings conducted in California were fundamentally fair and consistent with due process.

         2. A 30-day suspension is the appropriate reciprocal discipline in this case. Suspended.

         Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         Respondent Lori J. Sklar is licensed to practice law in Minnesota and California, among other states. On March 22, 2017, the California Supreme Court suspended Sklar from the practice of law for 1 year, stayed execution of that suspension for all but the first 30 days, and placed Sklar on probation for 2 years. The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility petitioned our court to impose the same discipline (a suspension of 30 days) on Sklar in Minnesota under Rule 12(d) of the Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). Because we conclude that the disciplinary proceedings in California were fundamentally fair and that a 30-day suspension would be neither unjust nor substantially different from the discipline we would impose in Minnesota for Sklar's misconduct, we grant the Director's petition.

         FACTS

         Sklar's misconduct stems from her representation of a class of plaintiffs in a California lawsuit. In 2005, Sklar filed, and shortly thereafter settled, a class-action lawsuit against Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc. After the California trial court preliminarily approved the class settlement, Sklar sought approximately $24 million in fees and costs-which represented 25 percent of what she claimed to be the benefit of the class settlement. This fee request prompted a decade-long dispute between Sklar and Toshiba, during which Sklar engaged in several acts of misconduct.

         First, Sklar sought to mislead the California trial court about the amount of her fee request. Between August 2006 and April 2009, Sklar and her personal attorney repeatedly informed the trial court that Sklar was seeking between $22 and $24 million in attorney fees. These representations were made in documents filed with the court and orally to the trial judge. Despite these representations, Sklar appeared before the trial court on April 5, 2010 and stated that she had never sought more than $12 million in attorney fees. Specifically, she claimed that the $24 million figure only represented the maximum amount of recovery she could receive but that $12 million was always the actual amount of her fee request. That claim was not true.

         Second, Sklar disobeyed two orders of the California trial court during the fee dispute. On August 15, 2007, the trial court ordered Sklar and Toshiba to select a neutral expert to search Sklar's computer backup files and produce anything that was not privileged after Sklar claimed that original versions of her electronic time records had been deleted. Sklar objected to the manner in which the court-ordered inspection was to take place and brought two unsuccessful challenges to the court's order. Ultimately, Sklar and Toshiba did not agree on a neutral expert, and an inspection did not take place. Almost a year later, on June 24, 2008, the court ordered Sklar to allow an inspection of her computer by Toshiba's chosen expert on July 22 and 23, 2008. Sklar challenged the court's second order, but was unsuccessful again. The day before the inspection was to take place, Sklar told opposing counsel that she would not allow it to proceed.

         The California district court imposed a discovery sanction against Sklar, and the California Court of Appeal for the Second District affirmed. Ellis v. Toshiba Am. Info. Sys., Inc., 160 Cal.Rptr.3d 557 (Cal.Ct.App. 2013), rev. denied (Cal. Nov. 26, 2013). Sklar sought review in the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, but both denied her petitions. Sklar v. Toshiba Am. Info. Sys., Inc., 572 U.S. 1138 (2014).

         After Sklar exhausted her avenues of appeal for the discovery sanction, the California State Bar filed disciplinary charges against her. The hearing department of the state bar court held a four-day trial on the charges. Sklar was present and fully participated. At trial, Sklar was represented by two attorneys, testified on multiple days, entered 54 exhibits, and presented the support of 14 character witnesses. A little over a month later, the hearing department issued an opinion recommending that Sklar be disciplined. The hearing department judge concluded, by clear and convincing evidence, that Sklar sought to mislead the California trial court judge by "artifice or false statement of fact" and willfully disobeyed court orders, violating two California rules of professional conduct. After weighing aggravating and mitigating factors, the hearing department judge recommended that Sklar be suspended from the practice of law in California for 1 year, that execution of her suspension be stayed for all but the first 30 days, and that Sklar be placed on probation for 2 years.

         After the hearing department issued its recommendation, the review department of the California bar court independently reviewed the record, determined by clear and convincing evidence that Sklar committed the charged misconduct, and adopted the hearing judge's discipline recommendation. Subsequently, the California Supreme Court declined review of Sklar's case and adopted the California bar court's recommended discipline. Sklar's petition to ...


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