A downtick in serious legal trouble

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2011 - 6:39 AM

Three lawyers were disbarred for unprofessional conduct, and three others had their licenses suspended in the second half of 2010. That's a slight decrease in serious disciplinary actions from the first half of last year and a tiny fraction of the more than 28,000 lawyers actively licensed in the state.

I reviewed orders of the Minnesota Supreme Court and petitions of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) to find disciplinary details on the lawyers listed here.

The cities listed are those found on the lawyers' registration forms; they may indicate either the place of practice or residence.

Aaron F. Biber, Minneapolis, disbarred

Biber pleaded guilty in July to criminal sexual conduct in the first degree for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old neighbor boy in October 2009. He was sentenced in October to 18 years in prison. He must pay restitution.

Albert A. Garcia, Jr., Duluth, disbarred

Garcia withdrew $22,132 from a client's trust fund for personal use and to pay a family member who worked for him. Later Garcia submitted false documents to investigators and coerced the client into making false statements.

In another matter, Garcia withdrew a petition without the client's knowledge. After an arbitration board told Garcia to refund an unreasonable fee in a third case, Garcia failed to do so.

He also failed to promptly pay employer withholding taxes for 12 quarters in a row.

Since Garcia's disbarment, a fund set up to compensate clients for money or property kept by their dishonest lawyers has paid eight claims against him totaling $24,840.

John P. St. Marie, Minneapolis, disbarred

St. Marie pleaded guilty in November to three felony counts of promoting prostitution. According to previous reports in the Star Tribune, St. Marie's sex ring operated for more than three years and involved well-to-do johns, expensive hotel rooms and high-dollar prostitutes flown in for the occasion.

St. Marie's disbarment is more of a technicality, since he gave up practicing law in 2003 because of complications from childhood polio.

The court placed him on 15 years of supervised probation rather than ordering him to prison, in part because of the cost of medical care.

St. Marie must complete a treatment program and allow his probation officer free access to his computer and internet activity.

Robert H. Aitken, III, Bemidji, suspended

Aitken failed to notify a client of hearing dates, forged the client's signature on a plea petition, submitted the petition to the court without the client's permission or knowledge and didn't let the client know she had been sentenced and owed fines and court fees.

He failed to fully cooperate with an OLPR investigation.

In August, he was suspended for at least 90 days and told to retake the professional responsibility portion of the bar exam. He remained suspended as of last week.

Stanley H. Nathanson, Scottsdale, Ariz., interim suspension

In October, after the OLPR filed a petition for disciplinary action against Nathanson, the court granted the lawyer's request to postpone an evidentiary hearing for six months. Nathanson based the request on financial hardship. He remained suspended as of last week.

Gregory J. Rebeau, St. Paul, suspended

For nine quarters over a 10-year period, he failed to fully pay his employer withholding taxes. For nine more quarters he neither filed the returns nor paid the taxes.

Rebeau admitted shielding money from the IRS in a trust fund and taking it for himself and others. He also misappropriated client funds and improperly handled retainer fees.

He was found in contempt of court for making a false statement to an insurance company to obtain a payout for his client. He was suspended for at least a year.

Hard Data digs into public records and puts a spotlight on rule breakers in Minnesota. Contact me at jfriedmann@startribune.com.

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