Twin Cities lawyer suspended over mental health issues

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 5, 2013 - 7:16 PM

Jill Clark faced discipline for accusing judges, others of misconduct.

An outspoken and controversial Twin Cities attorney who repeatedly ran for a seat on the state's high court has been suspended from practicing because of "serious mental health issues."

According to an order filed Wednesday by the Minnesota Supreme Court, Jill Clark is unable to competently represent clients because of the unspecified mental illness experienced in 2012, which, according to the order, "raised substantial questions regarding Clark's ... ability to competently represent clients."

The suspension puts a hold on disciplinary proceedings involving Clark. The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR), which is responsible for lawyer discipline, filed a petition against her last February alleging that she falsely accused judges of misconduct and filed paperwork that made it appear a judge signed an order that he actually had denied.

Clark repeatedly tried to move the disciplinary proceedings to federal court, and the matter was eventually heard by District Judge Gerald Seibel, who was appointed as a referee by the state Supreme Court. Clark was hospitalized shortly before a hearing could take place last June, and Seibel recommended that the Supreme Court place her on "disability inactive" status. She appeared before the state Supreme Court in October to argue against that recommendation. Seibel recommended "disability inactive" status for a second time.

OLPR Director Martin Cole said Clark indicated she would again challenge the recommendation, but had not done so before her suspension. It remains in effect until either disability or disciplinary proceedings are completed, Cole said.

The suspension means Clark cannot represent other clients, but can represent herself in further court proceedings. She did not immediately respond to an e-mail or phone message seeking comment Thursday.

In December, Clark filed a federal lawsuit against Hennepin County District Court, the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Minnesota Court of Appeals and more than a dozen other defendants. In a complaint more than 100 pages long, she alleged the OLPR complaint against her stemmed from discrimination, retaliation and several other constitutional violations because she spoke out against judges or planned to run against them in upcoming elections. The case has been transferred to a federal judge in Iowa for further proceedings.

Clark has written about the case on her blog, Jill Clark Speaks, in which she refers to herself as a judicial reformist. She has repeatedly run for Minnesota chief justice and placed third in a primary in August with more than 61,000 votes, or 20 percent of the ballots cast.

Clark, who has practiced law in the state since 1988, is controversial in some legal circles for zealously defending clients and has been accused of obstructing the legal process and causing trouble. She and Jill Waite earned notoriety for several cases, including their successful defense of two Iowa brothers accused of assaulting an off-duty Minneapolis cop and of a former state representative accused of spousal abuse.

Waite was suspended from practicing in 2010 for failing to file tax returns in a timely manner and for other reasons, but Clarke continued practicing. In 2011 she obtained a $60,000 jury verdict against a local blogger, but the award was overturned last year by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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