In re Disciplinary Action Against Sea, A17-1548

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation932 N.W.2d 28
Parties IN RE Petition for DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST Bobby Gordon Onyemeh SEA, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0282807
Decision Date07 August 2019
Docket NumberA17-1548

932 N.W.2d 28

IN RE Petition for DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST Bobby Gordon Onyemeh SEA, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0282807

A17-1548

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Filed: August 7, 2019


OPINION

PER CURIAM.

932 N.W.2d 31

The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent, Bobby Gordon Onyemeh Sea, alleging violations of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 3.3(a)(1), for knowingly making false statements to a tribunal; Rule 4.1, for making false statements to others; and Rule 8.4(c)–(d), for engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. These allegations stemmed from a series of false statements and material omissions that Sea made to the district court after he failed to appear for a scheduled hearing.

Following an evidentiary hearing, a referee found that Sea knowingly made false statements to the court and opposing counsel, delayed criminal proceedings, and caused harm to the public and legal profession. Due to his misconduct and the existence of multiple aggravating factors, the referee recommended that Sea be indefinitely suspended from the practice of law and ineligible to petition for reinstatement for a period of 120 days. We conclude that the referee did not clearly err by finding that Sea violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 3.3(a)(1), 4.1, 8.4(c)–(d) and that the referee’s recommended discipline is the appropriate sanction here.

FACTS

The referee made the following findings. Sea was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in May 1998. He is an experienced attorney, especially in criminal trials, as he has appeared in between 35 and 40 trials in his career. In 2013, we indefinitely suspended him from the practice of law, with no right to petition for reinstatement for a minimum of 20 months. In re Sea (Sea I ), 832 N.W.2d 851, 852 (Minn. 2013) (order). He was suspended due to his federal conviction for filing materially false federal income-tax returns, in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(b) ("commit[ting] a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respect"), and 8.4(c) ("engag[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation"). See 832 N.W.2d at 851. In December 2015, we reinstated Sea and placed him on supervised probation for 2 years. In re Sea (Sea II ), 872 N.W.2d 249, 249–50 (Minn. 2015) (order).

Sea represented F.B., a defendant in a first-degree criminal sexual conduct case. On the morning of April 18, 2017, the first day of trial, the parties appeared before the Wright County District Court to address pretrial issues, including motions to quash subpoenas that Sea had served on two witnesses. The district court recessed for lunch at 11:30 a.m., instructed the attorneys to return at 1:20 p.m., and ordered the witnesses to appear as well in order to resolve the motions to quash. The court and counsel knew that the court was available that day only until 2:25 p.m.

At some point during the break, the Wright County prosecutor received a call from Sea advising him that Sea would be a

932 N.W.2d 32

half-hour late. He said that he was on his way back from Saint Paul because he had to pick up his spare pair of eyeglasses after his original pair broke. When Sea did not appear, the Wright County clerk called him at 1:46 p.m. At that time, Sea told the clerk that he would be another half-hour late. The clerk called Sea at 2:01 p.m. and again Sea said that he would be another half hour. He was called a third time at 2:22 p.m., and Sea told the clerk he was in Maple Grove. The district court began the hearing at 2:24 p.m. without Sea. When Sea finally arrived at Wright County District Court at 2:41 p.m., the proceedings had ended for the day.

The referee found that the criminal trial was delayed due to Sea’s non-appearance because the district court was unable to rule on pretrial motions and two defense witnesses under subpoena missed work and were unable to testify. One of the witnesses was scheduled to leave the country the next day.

Additionally, Sea’s client, F.B., was unrepresented during the proceedings and unaware of his attorney’s whereabouts. The district court judge testified at an evidentiary hearing held by the referee that she was concerned for the defendant and was unable to communicate with him because his attorney was not present. The defendant had neither the assistance of counsel nor the ability to consult with counsel until Sea finally arrived.

At the opening of court proceedings the next day, the district court conducted a private, sealed, transcribed inquiry with Sea about his excuse, if any, for being late. Sea stated that his absence was due to his eyeglasses.

The court resumed public proceedings and asked Sea to explain where he was the afternoon before. Sea responded:

Once again, good morning, Your Honor. Unfortunately yesterday I broke my glasses. I have bifocal glasses, and I cannot see at all without them. And unfortunately the one I have is in Saint Paul. And I had to—I had to run down there to get it—get my spare one. And I thought—I'm showing you the one I wore yesterday before (shows glasses) it’s broken. It’s bifocal. I cannot see at all without them. So I had to run down to Saint Paul. I don't have the court’s phone numbers, so I called [M.E., the prosecutor]. And I told him, you know, that I will be back in Saint Paul after picking up my—my spare glasses. I thought I could make it back before 1:30, or maybe a few minutes late, you know. Unfortunately, the traffic was bad and I was not able to. I could not be able to see anything, Your Honor, yesterday at all without the glasses. And I thought to be able to read anything or see anyone, I must have this. Driving down with this, Your Honor (showing glasses) I have this—like this in my eye while I'm driving. And I could not operate my vehicle even safely on my way down there. Upon my return, Your Honor, I apologized to [M.M., counsel for defense witness scheduled to potentially testify the afternoon of April 18], you know, and the—and his client [potential defense witness]. I also apologized to [M.E.]. Now right now, Your Honor, I apologize to the court, you know. I am very sorry, you know. It wasn't—I mean I didn't plan on not being here. I was just hoping that I can rush down here and pick it up and come—and come right back maybe a few minutes late. But unfortunately the traffic was very bad and I wasn't able to get here. When I—when I got here though, [M.M.] and his clients were still here. So we were able to—to discuss more in details about the testimony of his witnesses. Once again, Your Honor, I sincerely apologize.
932 N.W.2d 33

When the court pressed Sea again a few days later, after he was once again 30 minutes late for the proceedings, for an explanation for his absence on April 18, Sea again only referenced his broken glasses and traffic as reasons for causing his delay.

The statements that Sea made to the district court and the prosecutor regarding the reason for his lateness were false. In reality, Sea was driving to and from Dakota County District Court to represent another client, A.H., in a bail hearing on April 18. Sea filed a certificate of representation in Dakota County on April 17, 2017, and was aware that the Dakota County proceeding for which he had filed a Notice of Appearance was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on April 18, 2017. Sea told the Dakota County clerk that he would arrive by 12:30 p.m. for the hearing. In his testimony at the evidentiary hearing, Sea admitted that he did not inform the Wright County District Court about the bail hearing in Dakota County because he believed that he "would have sufficient time to travel from Wright County to Dakota County" during the lunch recess of the Wright County proceedings. He testified that his glasses broke and he had to go to Saint Paul first to pick up his spare glasses before going to Dakota County. When Sea arrived in Dakota County the court had to call an interpreter and the proceedings were delayed while waiting for the interpreter to arrive. Sea testified that once the bail hearing began it "took maybe five to ten minutes at the most."

Sea never mentioned the bail hearing to either the Wright County District Court or opposing counsel during any of the many times he was asked about his whereabouts on the afternoon of April 18. At the evidentiary hearing, Sea admitted that it was wrong not to tell the Wright County District Court about his appearance in Dakota County and apologized for that omission. He maintained that he never intended to deceive the court and continued to argue that his statements regarding his eyeglasses were true. The referee rejected this testimony and found that Sea "[did] not recognize the wrongful nature of his misconduct, refused to acknowledge committing any wrongdoing and failed to exhibit genuine remorse for his misconduct" because Sea "continued to deny his statements were false."

After learning that Sea had actually been driving to and from Dakota County representing another client and Sea was still untruthful about his whereabouts, the district court imposed sanctions. It ordered Sea to reimburse Ridgeview Medical Center (where the two...

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14 practice notes
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Nelson, A18-1149
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 11 Septiembre 2019
    ...the referee cited Nelson’s substantial legal experience as an aggravating factor. As I have discussed elsewhere, see In re Sea , 932 N.W.2d 28, 43 (Minn. 2019) (Thissen, J., concurring in part & dissenting in part), I find the invocation of legal experience as an aggravating factor to be pr......
  • In re MacDonald, A20-0473
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 30 Junio 2021
    ...with the referee. It is well established that an attorney's "lengthy experience" may be treated as an aggravating factor. In re Sea , 932 N.W.2d 28, 37 (Minn. 2019). In fact, we treated MacDonald's lengthy experience as an aggravating factor when we disciplined her in 2018. MacDonald , 906 ......
  • In re Swanson, A20-1027
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 22 Diciembre 2021
    ...re Kennedy, 864 N.W.2d 342, 350 (Minn. 2015) (probation); In re Severson, 860 N.W.2d 658, 670 (Minn. 2015) (lack of remorse); In re Sea, 932 N.W.2d 28, 37 (Minn. 2019) (experience). The presence of four aggravating factors and no mitigating factors favors more severe discipline. F. Finally,......
  • In re Restorff, A17-1433
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 7 Agosto 2019
    ...than they received in 2016.4 And DHS has often been roundly and publicly criticized for not doing enough to protect children.5 Here, DHS 932 N.W.2d 28 acted swiftly and definitively to safeguard children.6 Pursuant to the Commissioner’s final decision, G.B. arrived at Restorff’s home by 8:3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Nelson, A18-1149
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 11 Septiembre 2019
    ...the referee cited Nelson’s substantial legal experience as an aggravating factor. As I have discussed elsewhere, see In re Sea , 932 N.W.2d 28, 43 (Minn. 2019) (Thissen, J., concurring in part & dissenting in part), I find the invocation of legal experience as an aggravating factor to be pr......
  • In re MacDonald, A20-0473
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 30 Junio 2021
    ...with the referee. It is well established that an attorney's "lengthy experience" may be treated as an aggravating factor. In re Sea , 932 N.W.2d 28, 37 (Minn. 2019). In fact, we treated MacDonald's lengthy experience as an aggravating factor when we disciplined her in 2018. MacDonald , 906 ......
  • In re Swanson, A20-1027
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 22 Diciembre 2021
    ...re Kennedy, 864 N.W.2d 342, 350 (Minn. 2015) (probation); In re Severson, 860 N.W.2d 658, 670 (Minn. 2015) (lack of remorse); In re Sea, 932 N.W.2d 28, 37 (Minn. 2019) (experience). The presence of four aggravating factors and no mitigating factors favors more severe discipline. F. Finally,......
  • In re Restorff, A17-1433
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • 7 Agosto 2019
    ...than they received in 2016.4 And DHS has often been roundly and publicly criticized for not doing enough to protect children.5 Here, DHS 932 N.W.2d 28 acted swiftly and definitively to safeguard children.6 Pursuant to the Commissioner’s final decision, G.B. arrived at Restorff’s home by 8:3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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