Monday, May 4, 2009
An attorney who had accepted a custody case shorttly before his December 12, 2006 suspension for 60 days by the North Dakota Supreme Court drew a second 60 day suspension by the court for the misconduct. After recieving the first suspension order, the attorney failed to advise the clients (a mother and daughter) of the suspension. He contended that he was not obligated to notify them because the summons and complaint he had drafted on their behalf had not yet been served and the matter was thus not "pending."
The court described what happened next:
Karlene McLaurin [the mother] said she sent a check to Stensland for $2800 on January 2, 2007 and Stensland cashed the check on January 10, 2007. Karlene McLaurin stated she became concerned about choosing Stensland for her attorney because she continually tried to contact him and no one answered his phone. Shortly thereafter, Karlene McLaurin testified she heard Stensland was disbarred. Karlene McLaurin said she wrote Stensland a letter, specifically asking him if he had been disbarred. Stensland replied to Karlene McLaurin, denying he was disbarred, but he failed to inform Karlene McLaurin he was suspended from the practice of law. Karlene McLaurin did not become aware of Stensland's suspension until she filed a complaint with the disciplinary board and the disciplinary board sent her a letter informing her Stensland had been suspended from the practice of law from January 15, 2007 until March 16, 2007.
The court here rejected the notion that the lawyer had no obligation to notify the clients of the suspension:
Stensland's argument that "pending matters" includes only those actions that are filed or that have been commenced by service of the summons is unduly restrictive. His argument ignores that N.D.R. Lawyer Discipl. 6.3(A) must be construed and applied with equal meaning to lawyers with litigation and non-litigation practices. We adopt the hearing panel's determination that Stensland's narrow interpretation of the phrase "pending matters" was not credible and that Stensland was required to provide the McLaurins with notice of his suspension because their case constituted a "pending matter."