Breck stands by coach under review by lawyer ethics panel
- Article by: MIKE KASZUBA
- Star Tribune
- November 26, 2012 - 11:12 PM
The Breck boys' basketball coach is under review by a state lawyers' ethics panel after being fired by his law firm for funneling potential clients from the firm to a competitor.
Matthew McCollister was fired from the law firm for his actions, according to his former employer, TSR Injury Law in Bloomington, which reached a settlement in a civil case that included allegations that McCollister was rewarded with cash payments, dinners and an evening at a strip club. Breck school officials said McCollister has been allowed to continue coaching at the prestigious private school in Golden Valley.
McCollister did not respond to requests for an interview. Martin Cole, the director of the state's Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, said Monday that the outcome of the ethics investigation could range from dismissing the case to a reprimand to disbarment.
"I can confirm that we are aware of the matter, and have an investigation pending," Cole said.
Breck athletic director Brett Bergene said last week that the school had known of the allegations for more than a year, and also that McCollister had told him he was now facing an ethics investigation. McCollister "was confident that everything would work out -- nothing would be found," Bergene said.
School spokesperson Jill Field added last week that the matter was "not related to the school." She added: "It has nothing to do with us."
TSR Injury Law, one of the higher profile personal injury firms in the Twin Cities, filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year, accusing McCollister of being paid "tens of thousands of dollars" to funnel potential legal cases to Michael Riehm, a competitor. The lawsuit, which was settled last month, said McCollister in an affidavit had admitted to sending Riehm as many as 200 possible clients that had first contacted TSR Injury Law.
McCollister at first only sent cases to Riehm he thought TSR Injury Law would not be interested in, the lawsuit said, but "it was only a matter of months before McCollister relaxed the standards he applied to determine which cases were "'acceptable' to refer to Riehm," the lawsuit said. When Riehm recovered money for the cases he got from McCollister, Riehm took McCollister to dinner and handed him a check, the lawsuit added.
In the lawsuit, TSR Injury Law estimated its damages at more than $150,000 and sought to obtain Riehm's car, a 2005 Aston Martin DB9-Coupe.
Riehm, contacted late last week, declined comment. "The matter has been settled, and I'm satisfied with the result," Riehm said.
In an interview with the Star Tribune when the lawsuit was filed in June, Riehm said TSR Injury Law was attempting to "embarrass me and shake me down for money." He added that the scheme "had nothing to do with me" and said "it's not for me to police what their employees do."
Cole said Monday that McCollister, Riehm and a third lawyer, who according to the lawsuit participated with McCollister in the scheme, were undergoing an ethics review.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County, McCollister said in a sworn affidavit that "at all times from the inception of the scheme in August 2010 until the scheme was discovered by TSR Injury law in December 2011, I knew that the scheme was wrongful."
McCollister and Riehm, the lawsuit said, communicated mostly by phone and text messages, and McCollister also convinced another attorney at TSR Injury Law to join him in the scheme and split the "referral fees."
After one dinner with Riehm in early 2011, according to the lawsuit, McCollister agreed to accompany him to the Seville Club, a strip club in downtown Minneapolis.
Bergene said last week the coach, while keeping him updated on the details of what was happening, did not tell him the arrangement involved a trip to a strip club. He said he was aware McCollister had left TSR Injury Law, but said that "I don't know under what conditions.
"I spoke with our head of school, and we handled it the way we wanted to handle it," Bergene said, describing what he did after McCollister first told him of what happened.
Charles Slane, a partner at TSR Injury Law, said the firm acted quickly to dismiss McCollister and turned the case over to a lawyers' ethics board. The lawsuit said the scheme was discovered last December when a potential client, whom McCollister had already referred to Riehm, mistakenly called TSR Injury Law inquiring about his case.
"It was resolved to our satisfaction," Slane said of the case, though he declined to release details of the settlement.
Slane said he was aware McCollister was a coach at Breck, but said he did not know whether the school knew of the allegations, and said he had not heard from Breck regarding the issue.
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