The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the indefinite suspension of a Minneapolis attorney who was convicted in 2019 of tax evasion.
The high court said that besides failing to pay his income taxes, William Butler continued to list himself as an attorney on his website after he was suspended, misused his attorney trust account and failed to cooperate with an investigation conducted by the director of the state's Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.
Butler had challenged the findings of a referee, but the Supreme Court said she had not abused her discretion. The court said "the appropriate discipline for Butler's misconduct is an indefinite suspension with no right to petition for reinstatement for four years."
Butler has been in the cross hairs of the Minnesota's state and federal judiciary for the past decade.
He has been sanctioned and held in contempt for filing frivolous lawsuits over housing foreclosures and failing to pay the fees and fines when he was sanctioned. When judges tossed out his cases, he was accused of filing the same cases a second time. He was suspended in 2015 by the lawyers board.
Despite earning hundreds of thousands of dollars when he still had a law license, he failed to pay his income taxes beginning in 2010, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, and was charged in 2018 for failure to pay income taxes in 2013 and 2014.
He did not testify at his 2019 trial but submitted excerpts from his blog about why he didn't have to pay taxes. He has also written articles characterizing the government's taxing authority as "coercive power." After he was convicted, the District Court stayed imposition of the sentence and placed Butler on probation for three years.
The high court said that he complied with conditions of probation by filing tax returns from 2012 through 2019.
But in other respects, Butler continued to find himself at odds with the lawyers board.
Disciplined by the high court in 2015 and again in 2017 and forbidden from practicing law, the lawyers board sent Butler a letter in 2019 saying that his website stated he was a Minnesota attorney.
Butler responded that his website was "currently down" but if it went back up he would change it to state that he "is a nonpracticing Minnesota attorney" and include a link to his prior discipline.
The lawyers board bars attorneys from using their attorney trust account for personal or business expenses. But the high court said that Butler used his trust account to make monthly car lease payments and to pay car insurance. He also used the account to deposit personal funds, including a $10,000 personal check, and disbursed payments to himself. There were never any third-party funds in the account during the disputed period or any commingling of funds. Butler explained that he used the trust account for personal purposes because his criminal convictions prevented him from opening a new bank account.
The high court said that "while we often suspend an attorney for between one to three years for a conviction such as willful tax evasion, the aggravating factors including Butler's prior similar misconduct and lack of remorse — warrant more severe discipline."
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224