Whistleblower: Lawyers disbarred, others suspended

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN
  • Updated: January 5, 2013 - 3:59 PM

Three lawyers were disbarred in 2012 after being convicted of crimes. One shoved a client and then pinned her between a door and its frame after the client asked for her money back. Another kept the proceeds from the sale of a client's house.

In all, 40 lawyers were publicly disciplined in Minnesota last year for professional misconduct. Six were disbarred, 26 were suspended and eight were subject to reprimand, probation or both.

I looked at Minnesota Supreme Court orders and petitions filed by the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility to gather the information listed here.

Deno W. Berndt, Minneapolis, disbarred. He kept $95,025 in proceeds from the sale of a client's house and tried to conceal that fact. Berndt repaid $35,350 to the client, Craig Taylor of New Brighton, but the state's Client Security Fund paid the remainder when Berndt failed to do so. The fund, financed by lawyers' registration fees, paid four additional claims by Berndt's clients totalling $39,500.

William A. Jacobs, Wayzata, disbarred.

Jacobs, a former Minneapolis park police chief, pleaded guilty in March to child pornography and criminal sexual conduct charges. He was disbarred for committing "a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer," a court order stated.

Steven P. Lundeen, Minneapolis, disbarred.

Lundeen misappropriated funds from multiple clients. He fell asleep during a hearing, made false statements, and when a client asked for a refund, Lundeen became "verbally and physically aggressive" and shoved her, according to a state petition.

Lundeen failed to make an initial appearance in his divorce proceedings after being arrested on suspicion of drug possession, to which he later pleaded guilty.

The Client Security Fund paid out $5,574 to satisfy six claims by Lundeen's clients.

Joseph A. Rymanowski Jr., St. Paul, disbarred.

He mishandled seven client matters, including accepting $10,000 in one case but providing no services or refund.

One client lost a case after Rymanowski filed a counterclaim without consulting the client and then didn't show up for a hearing. The Client Security Fund paid out $7,862 to satisfy four claims by Rymanowski's clients.

Richard A. Sand, St. Paul, disbarred.

Sand pleaded guilty in 2011 to aiding and abetting wire fraud and money laundering.

He was disbarred for committing "a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer" and for engaging "in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation," according to a court order.

Erin M. Wolff, Eden Prairie, disbarred.

Wolff was disbarred in a reciprocal action after she was disbarred in Arizona in 2009. She failed to notify the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility of the Arizona action when she resumed practice in Minnesota under her maiden name.

She was disbarred in Arizona for a lack of competence and diligence, failing to communicate and consult with clients, collecting unreasonable fees, knowingly making false statements to a tribunal, disobeying its orders, and violating professional probation.

Of the lawyers suspended in 2012, five were suspended for at least a year.

Nathaniel P. Hobbs, Minneapolis, suspended indefinitely in May for at least three years.

Hobbs misappropriated funds, neglected and incompetently handled client matters, failed to attend hearings, made false statements and fabricated documents. The Client Security Fund paid out $5,000 to satisfy three claims submitted by Hobbs' clients.

Trent W. Mahler, Milnor, N.D., suspended indefinitely in December for at least three years.

The state Supreme Court suspended Mahler in a reciprocal action after he was suspended in North Dakota.

The North Dakota suspension was based on his mishandling of client funds, neglect of clients, and charging of fees in excess of the agreed-upon amount.

Angela L. Montgomery Montez, now known as Angela L. Montgomery, Cottage Grove, suspended indefinitely in February for at least two years.

Instead of returning $3,250 in unearned fees, Montgomery deposited them into her individual retirement account. She falsified a document and made "false statements ... first to her client ... then to successor counsel, the arbitration panel, the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, a referee and our court," a Supreme Court order stated.

The Client Security Fund paid out $3,950 in June to satisfy a claim submitted by one of Montgomery's clients.

Chanel Gigi Melin, Minneapolis, suspended indefinitely in April for at least two years.

Melin misappropriated $5,026 from a client, a condominium association for which she was an officer. She made two false statements to the association.

Elizabeth Megan Carroll Trimble, St. Paul, suspended indefinitely in October for at leas two years.

Trimble failed to notify a client of a hearing or show up at it. She stopped communicating with a client, failed to withdraw as attorney, failed to return client money and failed to cooperate with an investigation into her behavior.

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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