IN RE PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT OF DEDEFO, No. A09-691.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation781 N.W.2d 1
PartiesIn re PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT OF Nuro B. DEDEFO, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 309989.
Docket NumberNo. A09-691.
Decision Date15 April 2010

781 N.W.2d 1

In re PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT OF Nuro B. DEDEFO, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 309989.

No. A09-691.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

April 15, 2010.


781 N.W.2d 2

Eric T. Cooperstein, Minneapolis, MN, for petitioner attorney.

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

781 N.W.2d 3
OPINION

PER CURIAM.

On July 17, 2008, we indefinitely suspended petitioner Nuro Bedhaso Dedefo from the practice of law, with no right to apply for reinstatement for a minimum of six months. On April 6, 2009, Dedefo filed a petition for reinstatement with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. After a hearing, a Panel for the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (Panel) recommended against Dedefo's reinstatement. The Director accepted that recommendation. Dedefo challenges the recommendation and argues that he has met his burden of proving he is fit to return to the practice of law. We conclude that Dedefo has established his eligibility to be reinstated to the practice of law, subject to a two-year period of supervised probation.

We described the events that led to Nuro Bedhaso Dedefo's suspension in In re Dedefo, 752 N.W.2d 523, 526-28, 532 (Minn.2008). We now recount them here. Dedefo is a member of the Oromo ethnic group of East Africa. He came to the United States from his native country of Ethiopia in 1995. Dedefo held a position as a high court judge in Ethiopia. He received threats from the Ethiopian government after he refused to follow orders to imprison or release people without following appropriate procedures. He later received asylum in the United States. Dedefo attended Hamline University Law School and was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 2001. Id. He then began a solo practice where he primarily handled personal injury matters. Id.

Dedefo's wife joined him in Minnesota in 1999. Id. The couple had serious marital difficulties, and Dedefo physically abused his wife. See id. She sought refuge on several occasions in the homes of family friends in 2000 and 2001. Dedefo was extremely angry at her and the three friends because of his cultural belief that a married woman should never spend a night away from home without her husband's permission. He felt that the friends who had sheltered his wife had shamed him and challenged his manhood.

In October 2001, Dedefo filed a lawsuit for defamation, misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and interference with marital relations against the three former friends who had given shelter to his wife. See id. at 526-27. He filed the lawsuit knowing that it had no merit, and then intentionally obstructed his own deposition by refusing to answer questions and making improper objections. See id. at 527. In response to a defense motion for summary judgment, Dedefo filed a false affidavit that he had drafted and compelled his wife to sign, recanting her accusations of physical abuse. Id. Dedefo and his wife divorced in 2005. Id.

The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility began an investigation of Dedefo in 2003, following a complaint about an overdraft on his client trust account. Id. Four years later, the Director petitioned for disciplinary action against Dedefo for trust account violations, as well as obstruction of access to evidence in the defamation case against his former friends and knowing presentation of a false affidavit to the court in that case. Id. Dedefo stipulated to the facts surrounding the trust account violations, but challenged the other allegations. Id. In our opinion ordering Dedefo's indefinite suspension from the practice of law, we concluded that

clear and convincing evidence showed that Dedefo negligently misappropriated client funds, commingled client and personal funds, and failed to maintain proper trust account books and records in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.15(a), (b), and (h); incompetently represented
781 N.W.2d 4
himself in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.1; obstructed another party's access to evidence in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 3.4(a); knowingly offered evidence that he knew to be false in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 3.3(a)(3); and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(d).

Id. at 530. We ordered that Dedefo would have "no right to petition for reinstatement for 6 months from the date of the opinion." Id. at 532.

On April 6, 2009, Dedefo filed a petition for reinstatement with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. The Director investigated and reported his conclusions to a Panel. The report acknowledged that Dedefo had complied with the general preconditions for reinstatement set forth by this court.1 The Director interviewed Dedefo and three of his character witnesses, and concluded that the evidence presented in the interviews did "not adequately demonstrate that Dedefo has undergone the necessary moral change to be reinstated to the practice of law." In light of the "insufficient record," the Director could not make a recommendation to the Panel as to Dedefo's fitness for reinstatement.

Pursuant to Rule 18, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR), on August 12, 2009, the Panel conducted a hearing on Dedefo's petition for reinstatement. The Panel consisted of three Board members: one lawyer and two nonlawyers. Dedefo testified on his own behalf and presented the testimony of four additional witnesses.

Dedefo admitted in his testimony that when he and his ex-wife had arguments, he would regularly grab her and hit her. He testified that in Oromo culture, such behavior is considered "natural and normal" and is "not considered as abuse." He stated that although he did not consider his actions to be physical abuse at the time, he now understands that he "made a mistake" and "shouldn't have done that." He "realized slowly, gradually," since the time of his suspension that hitting one's wife "is considered physical abuse in this system." Dedefo further admitted that he had falsely denied the abuse at his disciplinary hearing.

Dedefo went on to discuss the lawsuit he filed against the three people who had allowed his wife to stay with them in their homes. He explained that their actions made him very angry because he had been raised to believe that "a wife never spends one night in another person's house. That is considered a shame in my culture." Dedefo stated that he now understands that in this society a woman has a right to stay with friends, and he was wrong to file the lawsuit. He further explained that his error has "made him a better person" because he has learned to see things from the perspective of others. He stated:

At that time, what I was thinking was my culture and background and my values, my wife acting like that and my friend doing that. But now when I see, I should know that I am in a different system, I'm in a different culture, I'm in a different society, so I shouldn't have done that. I was angry at that time, that's why I did it. But I shouldn't have done that.
781 N.W.2d 5

Dedefo also admitted that during his deposition in connection with the lawsuit, he was "stubborn" because of his anger and "did not disclose the information I was supposed to disclose." Dedefo conceded that the affidavit in his wife's name recanting the abuse accusations was false. He testified that he drafted the affidavit, and that he now believes that his wife did not agree with its contents but signed it anyway because she was afraid of him. He stated that his "judgment was cloudy" when he filed the affidavit, and that filing it was a mistake.

Dedefo testified that during his disciplinary hearing, he denied the allegations regarding the abuse of his wife and the resulting meritless lawsuit that he filed. He stated that at the time of the disciplinary hearing, he did not understand why the Board and the government should have any interest in matters that he viewed as personal family issues. Because of that belief, losing his license "was a very shocking moment." Many members of the worldwide Oromo community called him to ask about the suspension, which had been publicized on the Internet. Dedefo initially told people that the suspension was the fault of his ex-wife and the three former friends who were defendants in the lawsuit he filed.

After the shock of losing his license, Dedefo testified that he "sat back" and "reflected" and "came to the conclusion that ... this thing is my fault." He stated that he now blames only himself for the serious mistakes he made in the way he handled the matters regarding his ex-wife and his three former friends. Dedefo testified that since his suspension, he has learned that "when you are angry, you lose... your thinking power." He has read self-help books about anger management and learned that it is best to try "to see things in other people's perspective and not to do things while you are angry." He testified that "things happen for a reason" and that the suspension has "made him a really ... different person." Since his suspension, Dedefo has counseled people to "use anger to do good things in a positive way," rather than allowing anger to control decisions, and cited himself as an example of what can go wrong when people act rashly out of strong anger.

Dedefo testified that he feels sorry for the expense incurred by the defendants in his meritless lawsuit, and for his ex-wife having had to "go through all these things." He testified that he would like to apologize to the three defendants, but has been unable to do so because a split has since occurred in the local Oromo community and an apology would be seen as "a bigger issue" affecting the entire community. He also testified that he had not apologized to his ex-wife for abusing her.

After his suspension, Dedefo applied for...

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13 practice notes
  • In re Tigue, A19-1603
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • June 16, 2021
    ...an independent review of the entire record; although we consider a panel's recommendation, we are not bound by it. See In re Dedefo , 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn. 2010) (reinstating a suspended attorney when a panel recommended against reinstatement). If a petitioner orders a transcript of the re......
  • In re Sand, A18-1795
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 16, 2020
    ...wrongfulness of past conduct, as an additional factor, are "intertwined" and "considered ... together." In re Dedefo , 781 N.W.2d 1, 8 (Minn. 2010). The panel found that Sand sincerely recognized the wrongfulness of his misconduct. Concerning competency to practice law, ......
  • In re Disciplinary Action Against Montez , No. A11–0125.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • February 22, 2012
    ...We accept such findings as conclusive “because we cannot review the evidence supporting” them without a transcript. In re Dedefo, 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn.2010); see also In re Anderson, 759 N.W.2d 892, 895–96 (Minn.2009) (explaining that we give deference to a referee's factual findings espec......
  • In re Petition for Disciplinary Action Against Alan J. Albrecht, No. A13–0520.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • April 9, 2014
    ...evaluate such factual challenges without a transcript because “we cannot review the evidence supporting th[e] findings.” In re Dedefo, 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn.2010). Therefore, we accept the referee's findings and conclusions about what happened. In re Montez, 812 N.W.2d 58, 66 (Minn.2012). A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • In re Tigue, A19-1603
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • June 16, 2021
    ...an independent review of the entire record; although we consider a panel's recommendation, we are not bound by it. See In re Dedefo , 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn. 2010) (reinstating a suspended attorney when a panel recommended against reinstatement). If a petitioner orders a transcript of the re......
  • In re Sand, A18-1795
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 16, 2020
    ...wrongfulness of past conduct, as an additional factor, are "intertwined" and "considered ... together." In re Dedefo , 781 N.W.2d 1, 8 (Minn. 2010). The panel found that Sand sincerely recognized the wrongfulness of his misconduct. Concerning competency to practice law, ......
  • In re Disciplinary Action Against Montez , No. A11–0125.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • February 22, 2012
    ...We accept such findings as conclusive “because we cannot review the evidence supporting” them without a transcript. In re Dedefo, 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn.2010); see also In re Anderson, 759 N.W.2d 892, 895–96 (Minn.2009) (explaining that we give deference to a referee's factual findings espec......
  • In re Blomquist, A19-1461
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • May 5, 2021
    ...facts are "conclusive." See, e.g. , In re Fru , 829 N.W.2d 379, 387 (Minn. 2013) ; Montez , 812 N.W.2d at 66 ; In re Dedefo , 781 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Minn. 2010) ; In re Moore , 692 N.W.2d 446, 449 (Minn. 2005). Based on the plain language of Rule 14(e) and our precedent, we decline to p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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