In re Disciplinary Action against Dedefo, No. A07-573.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
Citation752 N.W.2d 523
PartiesIn re Petition for DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST Nuro Bedhaso DEDEFO, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 309989.
Docket NumberNo. A07-573.
Decision Date17 July 2008
752 N.W.2d 523
In re Petition for DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST Nuro Bedhaso DEDEFO, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 309989.
No. A07-573.
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
July 17, 2008.

[752 N.W.2d 526]

Martin A. Cole, Director Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, Cassie Hanson, Senior Assistant Director, St. Paul, MN, for appellant.

William E. Sjoholm, Debra M. Newel, Thomsen & Nybeck, P.A., Edina, MN, for respondent.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.


In March 2007, the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (the Director) filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent Nuro Bedhaso Dedefo. We appointed a referee to conduct a hearing and make findings of fact and recommendations for discipline, if necessary. After the hearing, the referee found that Dedefo violated various rules of professional conduct by: (1) improperly maintaining client trust accounts, books, and records; (2) incompetently representing himself; (3) obstructing another party's access to relevant evidence; (4) knowingly offering false evidence; and (5) engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Based on those findings, the referee recommended Dedefo be suspended from the practice of law in the State of Minnesota and be ineligible to petition for reinstatement for a minimum of 6 months. Dedefo now challenges the referee's evidentiary rulings, findings of fact and conclusions of law, and disciplinary recommendation. We conclude that the appropriate discipline for Dedefo's misconduct is the indefinite suspension of Dedefo's license to practice law with no right to petition for reinstatement for a minimum of 6 months.

In 1995, Dedefo moved to the United States from Ethiopia. B.G., Dedefo's wife, joined him in the United States in 1999. Dedefo graduated from Hamline University Law School and was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in October 2001. Since early 2002, he has maintained a general practice focusing on personal injury law.

In February 2001, B.G. sought an order for protection (OFP) against Dedefo, claiming that he had hit her in the eye, choked her, and pulled out clumps of her hair. At a hearing on the OFP petition, B.G. testified that Dedefo abused her and produced photographs of her injuries. Dedefo denied that any abuse occurred. The district court issued the OFP, finding B.G.'s testimony more credible than Dedefo's.

Dedefo blamed three former friends for encouraging B.G. to seek the OFP. As a result, Dedefo commenced legal action (the lawsuit) against the three, alleging defamation, misrepresentation, intentional infliction

752 N.W.2d 527

of emotional distress, and interference with marital relationship. The defendants deposed Dedefo. During the deposition, Dedefo refused to disclose the factual basis for the allegations in his complaint on the ground that the information was protected by the work product doctrine. He also refused to answer questions about his relationship with B.G., saying, "I'm not here to talk about my wife. I'm here to talk about what they did to me." He responded to questions about his claims with such statements as, "Be specific"; "It's already stated in the complaint"; and "I will produce evidence when time is right. So I'm not here to tell you how I got the evidence." At the end of the deposition, Dedefo demanded to be paid for his time.

Defendants moved for summary judgment. In opposition to the motion, Dedefo prepared and submitted, among other things, an affidavit signed by B.G. The affidavit retracted B.G.'s allegations of abuse and stated that the three defendants "influenced me to falsely accuse [Dedefo]." The district court granted the defendants' summary judgment motion but denied defendants' request for sanctions against Dedefo. Defendants incurred some $7,500 in attorney fees; Dedefo does not dispute the referee's finding that those fees "placed substantial financial burden" on the defendants.

In February 2003, the Director received notification of an overdraft on Dedefo's trust account and opened a disciplinary file. During the Director's investigation, B.G. met with an attorney in the Director's office. Dedefo drove her to the meeting and waited for her in the lobby. At the meeting, B.G. retracted her statements that Dedefo had abused her and stated that the three defendants coerced her into seeking the OFP. B.G. later testified that she made these statements because "I feared for my life, and at that time I was also pregnant. * * * I afraid he might hit me, or I don't know what would happen to me."

B.G. secured a second OFP against Dedefo in August 2003 after a contested hearing. Dedefo did not contest the issuance of a third OFP in October 2004, although he continued to deny ever abusing B.G. Dedefo eventually filed for dissolution, which was finalized in 2005.

In 2007, the Director petitioned for disciplinary action based on alleged trust account violations, obstruction of the defendants' access to evidence in the defamation case, and knowing presentation of a false affidavit to the court. We appointed a referee, who conducted a hearing. The parties stipulated to factual findings regarding the trust account violations, but Dedefo challenged the allegations of obstructing access to evidence and filing a false affidavit. B.G., Dedefo, and Dedefo's mother and daughter testified at the hearing.

Following the hearing, the referee found that Dedefo had commingled personal and client funds in his trust account and had negligently misappropriated client funds. The referee concluded that Dedefo had violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.15(h) by "failing to maintain proper trust account records." The referee further concluded that the Director had proved by clear and convincing evidence that in the defamation lawsuit against his former friends Dedefo: (1) incompetently represented himself in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.1; (2) obstructed the defendants' access to evidence in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 3.4(a); (3) knowingly offered evidence that he knew to be false in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 3.3(a)(3); and (4) engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(d). The referee recommended that Dedefo be suspended from the practice of law and ineligible to apply

752 N.W.2d 528

for reinstatement for a minimum of 6 months.

Dedefo ordered a transcript of the hearing; therefore, the referee's findings are not binding on this court. Rule 14(e), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). In this proceeding, Dedefo raises three issues. First, he argues that evidence relating to his relationships with B.G. and the three defendants in the lawsuit was not relevant and that the referee erred in admitting it. Second, Dedefo argues that the referee's findings of fact regarding obstruction of access to evidence, the false affidavit, and incompetent representation were clearly erroneous and that therefore the referee's conclusion that Dedefo violated the rules of professional conduct is not supported by clear and convincing evidence. Finally, he argues that the recommended discipline is excessive.

I.

We turn first to Dedefo's argument that evidence relating to his relationships with the defendants in the lawsuit and his ex-wife was not relevant to any of the issues in the case and, therefore, the referee erred in admitting it. The evidence at issue includes the testimony of B.G. and two of the three defendants in the lawsuit; evidence relating to the OFPs, including the petitions, hearing transcripts, and the OFPs themselves; and the court of appeals opinion adjudicating Dedefo's challenge to the second OFP.

The Minnesota Rules of Evidence apply to disciplinary hearings. Rule 9(i)(4), RLPR; In re Wood, 716 N.W.2d 341, 346 (Minn.2006). Only relevant evidence is admissible. Minn. R. Evid. 402. "`Relevant evidence' means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Minn. R. Evid. 401. A referee may exclude evidence if the danger of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs its probative value. Minn. R. Evid. 403. We will not reverse a referee's evidentiary rulings absent an abuse of discretion. Wood, 716 N.W.2d at 346.

We agree with the referee that the evidence regarding Dedefo's abuse of B.G. is relevant to whether Dedefo filed an affidavit that he knew contained false testimony. Specifically, the evidence supports the Director's...

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17 practice notes
  • In re Disciplinary Action Against Montez , No. A11–0125.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • February 22, 2012
    ...her submission of a falsified document to the arbitration panel and to the referee also constitutes serious misconduct. See In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 532 (Minn.2008) (explaining that we “take dishonesty by lawyers seriously and have repeatedly held that a lack of truthfulness or candor ......
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Butler, No. A14–0834.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 12, 2015
    ...independent factual findings. Additionally, although “[t]he Minnesota Rules of Evidence apply to disciplinary hearings,”In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 528 (Minn.2008), in the proceeding before the referee, Butler did not object to the admission of the federal district court orders and pleadi......
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against William Bernard Butler, A14-0834
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 12, 2015
    ...independent factual findings. Additionally, although "[t]he Minnesota Rules of Evidence apply to disciplinary hearings," In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 528 (Minn. 2008), in the proceeding before the referee, Butler did not object to the admission of the federal district court orders and plea......
  • Hannon v. State, No. A07-1784.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • July 17, 2008
    ...or should have been known to Hannon at the time of his direct appeal but were not raised. Therefore, Hannon's prosecutorial misconduct 752 N.W.2d 523 claims are procedurally barred by Hannon next claims that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process by excluding certa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • In re Disciplinary Action Against Montez , No. A11–0125.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • February 22, 2012
    ...her submission of a falsified document to the arbitration panel and to the referee also constitutes serious misconduct. See In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 532 (Minn.2008) (explaining that we “take dishonesty by lawyers seriously and have repeatedly held that a lack of truthfulness or candor ......
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Butler, No. A14–0834.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 12, 2015
    ...independent factual findings. Additionally, although “[t]he Minnesota Rules of Evidence apply to disciplinary hearings,”In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 528 (Minn.2008), in the proceeding before the referee, Butler did not object to the admission of the federal district court orders and pleadi......
  • Hannon v. State, No. A07-1784.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • July 17, 2008
    ...or should have been known to Hannon at the time of his direct appeal but were not raised. Therefore, Hannon's prosecutorial misconduct 752 N.W.2d 523 claims are procedurally barred by Hannon next claims that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process by excluding certa......
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against William Bernard Butler, A14-0834
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 12, 2015
    ...independent factual findings. Additionally, although "[t]he Minnesota Rules of Evidence apply to disciplinary hearings," In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 528 (Minn. 2008), in the proceeding before the referee, Butler did not object to the admission of the federal district court orders and plea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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