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In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Nelson

Supreme Court of Minnesota

September 11, 2019

In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Christopher J. Nelson, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0259779.

          ORDER

          David L. Lillenaug, Associate Justice.

         The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition for disciplinary action and a supplementary petition alleging that respondent Christopher J. Nelson committed professional misconduct warranting public discipline, namely: failure to pay a law-related judgment, failure to respond to court orders, and failure to comply with court orders to show cause why he should not be held in contempt; failure to appear for a court hearing, failure to communicate with a client, and making improper solicitations to provide legal services; and failure to cooperate with the Director's investigation. See Minn. R Prof. Conduct 1.4(a)(4), 3.4(c), 7.3(c), 8.1(b), and 8.4(d); and Rule 25, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). We referred the matter to a referee.

         Respondent failed to appear for proceedings before the referee. As a result, the referee struck respondent's answer and deemed the allegations of the petition and the supplementary petition admitted. Following a hearing on the harm caused by respondent's misconduct and the presence of any aggravating factors, the referee made findings, conclusions, and a recommendation. The referee concluded that respondent committed the misconduct alleged in the petition and supplementary petition, that the harm caused was substantial, and that five aggravating favors were present. The referee recommended that respondent be indefinitely suspended with no right to petition for reinstatement for 6 months.

         Because no party ordered a transcript of the proceedings before the referee, the referee's findings and conclusions are conclusive. See Rule 14(e), RLPR. We issued a briefing schedule. In her brief, the Director recommends that the court impose the 6-month suspension recommended by the referee. Respondent did not file a brief with this court.

         Based upon all the files, records, and proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:

         1. Respondent Christopher J. Nelson is indefinitely suspended from the practice of law, effective 14 days from the date of the filing of this order, with no right to petition for reinstatement for 6 months.

         2. Respondent may petition for reinstatement pursuant to Rule l8(a)-(d), RLPR. Reinstatement is conditioned on successful completion of the written examination required for admission to the practice of law by the State Board of Law Examiners on the subject of professional responsibility, see Rule 18(e)(2), RLPR, and satisfaction of continuing legal education requirements, see Rule 18(e)(4), RLPR.

         3. Respondent shall comply with Rule 26, RLPR (requiring notice of suspension to clients, opposing counsel, and tribunals), and shall pay $900 in costs pursuant to Rule 24(a), RLPR.

          HUDSON, Justice (concurring).

         I concur in the court's disposition of this case. The court recites that among other things, respondent failed to pay a law-related judgment, failed to respond to court orders, and failed to comply with orders to show cause. Such misconduct is indeed serious, but the abbreviated description in the court's order does not do justice to the outrageousness of respondent's actions. According to the allegations of the petition, which were deemed admitted because of respondent's failure to appear, one of respondent's former clients secured a money judgment against him based on respondent's failure to resolve the client's case. Respondent refused to respond to or comply with court orders intended to facilitate collection of the judgment; avoided service of an order to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the previous orders; and failed to appear before the court when he eventually was successfully served, leading the court to issue a bench warrant for his arrest. By his repeated failure to comply with his obligations to the court, respondent was successful in avoiding satisfaction of the judgment for 10 years until the judgment expired.

         In my view respondent's flouting of the legal system, conducted in service of an effort to avoid responsibility for respondent's own professional failing, and sustained for a decade, merits a lengthy suspension. The Director recommends that we impose a minimum 6-month indefinite suspension. In my view, that is the absolute floor of possible sanctions that could be considered appropriate for respondent's misconduct. It is only because respondent, if he seeks reinstatement, will be required to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he has undergone the requisite moral change to render him fit to practice law, see In re Griffith, 883 N.W.2d 798, 799 (Minn. 2016), that I concur.

          McKEIG, Justice (concurring).

         I join in the concurrence ...


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