Few Minnesota lawyers in the past decade have found themselves so frequently on the wrong side of the law as William Bernard Butler.
The 54-year-old Minneapolis attorney has been denounced by federal and state district judges, sanctioned and held in contempt for filing frivolous lawsuits over house foreclosures, then failing to pay the fees and fines when he was sanctioned. When his cases were thrown out, he’s been accused by exasperated judges of refiling the same suits.
Butler was suspended from practicing law in 2015 by the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, which has yet to reinstate him. But Butler may be facing his biggest legal problem yet.
Despite earning hundreds of thousands of dollars while he still had a law license, Butler has not paid his income taxes since 2010, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
He’s now charged with two felony counts of failing to file state income taxes in 2013 and 2014, each count carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Butler declined to comment to a reporter who visited his North Loop office earlier this month, offering instead a lengthy statement by e-mail denouncing taxation. He insisted the statement be published in its entirety, and when the Star Tribune declined to do so, he said he would offer no other comment.
Butler made his first appearance in Ramsey District Court on July 13, where he represented himself. Another hearing is set for Aug. 10.
The Revenue Department said in its criminal complaint that Butler’s gross income was $163,612 in 2012 and $158,006 in 2013, two years in which he did not pay state taxes.
When he refused to pay federal court fines, a court investigation found he deposited $1,353,750.25 into accounts he controlled between February 2012 and October 2013, the complaint said.
“Butler not only knows he has an obligation to file a Minnesota income tax return, but his refusal to file is a willful attempt to evade or defeat the tax which he views as the product of unjust or immoral government action,” the complaint says.
“He has written articles characterizing the government’s taxing authority as a ‘coercive power’ and he has described taxation as ‘coercive and involuntary transfer of property,’ ” the complaint said.
Butler has also stated that “there is no question” that Jesus regards tax collectors as “sinners” who have violated God’s law and who must acknowledge their sins and repent, the complaint said.
Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, has long followed Butler’s conflicts with the court.
“He sees conspiracy in any governmental action which impinges on his liberty,” Daly said.
Daly called the criminal complaint an “extreme step,” adding that the Revenue Department prefers to inform, pressure and threaten people with legal action if they do not pay their taxes.
“It takes a lot to motivate the Minnesota Department of Revenue to bring criminal charges against anybody,” he said.
Butler has practiced law under an array of business entities, according to the charges. He formed William Butler PLLC in 1997 and Butler Liberty Law LLC in 2010. In 2011, he created the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Economists, which received money from his law firm and paid his living expenses.
His latest entity is General Counsel LLC. It was formed in 2014 but hasn’t been active since at least March 2017, according to the complaint. A sign with that name remains on the door of his office.
In the aftermath of the 2008 mortgage crisis, Butler represented more than 100 clients fighting foreclosures, arguing that the foreclosures were illegal by the very way in which the mortgage system operates. Judges repeatedly threw his cases out.
“Butler became notorious in Minnesota federal courts and in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for pursuing legal theories that have been previously rejected,” the criminal complaint said. He was fined and ordered to pay the other side’s attorneys’ fees on several occasions, totaling about $300,000.
The federal district court found him in contempt twice and the Minnesota Supreme Court found that his failure to pay the fines and fees was a conscious decision to disregard a court order, not an inability to pay.