In re Siders, A17-0514

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation903 N.W.2d 218 (Mem)
Docket NumberA17-0514
Parties IN RE Petition for DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST Shawn Patrick SIDERS, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0391553.
Decision Date27 October 2017

903 N.W.2d 218 (Mem)

IN RE Petition for DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST Shawn Patrick SIDERS, a Minnesota Attorney, Registration No. 0391553.


Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Dated: October 27, 2017


The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility has filed a petition for disciplinary action alleging that respondent Shawn Patrick Siders has committed professional misconduct warranting public discipline by soliciting a minor to engage in prostitution, see Act of May 22, 2015, ch. 65, art. 6, § 11, 2015 Minn. Laws 474, 527-28 (codified as amended at Minn. Stat. § 609.324, subd. 1(c)(3) (2016) ), and failing to cooperate with the Director's investigation. See Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 8.1(b), 8.4(b) ; Rule 25, Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR). As part of entering into a stipulation for discipline with the Director, respondent has waived his procedural rights under Rule 14, RLPR, and admitted the allegations listed in the petition, including that he violated the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct and Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility when he committed the misconduct. The parties jointly recommend that the appropriate discipline

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is an indefinite suspension with no right to petition for reinstatement for 2 years.

"The purpose of discipline for professional misconduct is not to punish the attorney but rather to protect the public, to protect the judicial system, and to deter future misconduct by the disciplined attorney as well as by other attorneys." In re Engel, 859 N.W.2d 788, 789 (Minn. 2015) (order). In determining the appropriate discipline to impose, we consider "the nature of the misconduct, the cumulative weight of the violations, the harm to the public, and the harm to the legal profession." In re Hummel, 839 N.W.2d 78, 81 (Minn. 2013). "Because we strive for consistency in attorney discipline, we look to similar cases for guidance in setting the proper sanction." In re Rooney, 709 N.W.2d 263, 268 (Minn. 2006).

Respondent's conduct was a serious breach of the standards of professional conduct required of an attorney licensed in Minnesota. Respondent pleaded guilty to a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. See Minn. Stat. § 609.324, subd. 1(c)(3). "We generally view felony convictions as serious misconduct." In re Pitera, 827 N.W.2d 207, 210 (Minn. 2013) (quoting In re Perez, 688 N.W.2d 562, 567 (Minn. 2004) ) (internal quotation marks omitted). But respondent's criminal conduct in this case was unrelated to the practice of law, and "[w]hen an attorney commits criminal conduct unrelated to the practice of law ... [w]e have typically imposed suspensions or public reprimands." Id. (quoting In re Farley, 771 N.W.2d 857, 864 (Minn. 2009) ) (second alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, respondent failed to cooperate with the disciplinary process. Noncooperation, by itself, is serious misconduct, and "we typically increase the severity of the disciplinary sanction where noncooperation exists." In re Montez, 812 N.W.2d 58, 69 (Minn. 2012) (quoting In re Nelson, 733 N.W.2d 458, 464 (Minn. 2007) ) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration omitted).

We have typically imposed indefinite suspensions when attorneys have committed acts of criminal sexual conduct or other sexual offenses involving minors when the criminal acts at issue do not arise out of the practice of law. In In re Bohanek, for example, the attorney pleaded guilty to online solicitation of a minor for sexual conduct, Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 33.021(c) (West 2016), based on an incident in which the attorney had a sexually explicit conversation with, and arranged to meet, an undercover police officer whom the attorney believed to be a 14-year-old girl. See In re Bohanek, No. A15-0462, Order at 1 (Minn. filed Apr. 6, 2015). Under Texas law, the attorney's crime was a felony of the second degree, Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 33.021(f) (West 2016), punishable by up to 20 years in prison, Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.33(a) (West 2011). Despite the lengthy sentence authorized by Texas law, we imposed an indefinite suspension for a minimum of 3 years. Bohanek, No. A15-0462, Order at 1.

In In re Scannell, 861 N.W.2d 678, 679 (Minn. 2015) (order), we also imposed a minimum 3-year indefinite suspension for a county attorney who pleaded guilty to two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, Minn. Stat. § 609.345, subd. 1 (2016), carrying a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison for each count, id., subd. 2. The attorney in Scannell had also made derogatory statements on his blog about criminal defendants whom he was prosecuting. Scannell, 861 N.W.2d at 679. And in In re Blashack, 793 N.W.2d 437, 437 (Minn. 2011) (order), the attorney pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, Minn. Stat. § 609.345, subd. 1, the same charge as in Scannell. Once again, we imposed a minimum 3-year indefinite suspension on the

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attorney, a disciplinary period much shorter than the maximum sentence for the underlying crime. Blashack, 793 N.W.2d 437 ; see Minn. Stat. § 609.345, subd. 2 (2016) (providing for a penalty of up to 10 years in prison).

Respondent's misconduct is no doubt serious. But as measured by the possible sentence that the Legislature has authorized for the crime, the offense to which respondent pleaded guilty was less serious than the crimes committed in Bohanek, Scannell, and Blashack. Each of those cases involved one or more offenses punishable by 10 or more years in prison, whereas respondent's single offense involved a maximum 5-year sentence. Even considering that respondent committed additional misconduct by failing to cooperate with the Director's investigation, we conclude that a shorter suspension than the minimum 3-year suspensions imposed in Bohanek, Scannell, and Blashack will fulfill the purposes of attorney discipline. Furthermore, "we give some deference to the Director's decision to enter into a stipulation," In re Riehm, 883 N.W.2d 223, 235 (Minn. 2016), and note that the jointly recommended discipline in this case falls well within the range of sanctions imposed in other similar cases, including Bohanek, Scannell, and Blashack. We conclude, therefore, that the parties' recommended disposition is sufficient to protect the public and the judicial system and to deter future misconduct.

The dissent advances several reasons why it views a 2-year minimum suspension as inadequate, none of which we find persuasive. First, the dissent argues that we cannot know whether this is the first time that respondent has attempted to solicit a minor for prostitution—that is, whether he is a "serial predator"—and therefore we cannot determine whether a lengthier suspension or even disbarment might be appropriate. But that makes this case no different than every...

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