N.D. Supreme Court Disciplinary Board v. Stensland, 2011 ND 110
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Application for Disciplinary Action.
Disciplinary Board v. Stensland No. 20100304
[¶1] Monty J. Stensland objects to the report of a hearing panel of the Disciplinary Board recommending suspension of his license to practice law, payment of restitution, and payment of costs of the disciplinary proceeding. We conclude there is clear and convincing evidence Stensland violated N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.4, 1.5, 1.15, 1.16, and 8.4, and N.D.R. Lawyer Discipl. 1.2(A). We order that Stensland be suspended from the practice of law for one year, pay restitution in the amount of $2,700, and pay costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceeding in the amount of $8,653.95.
[¶2] In April 2008 Stensland was hired to represent Jeffrey Schmeets on pending criminal matters in Sheridan County and Wells County. Stensland picked up Schmeets's file and a $9,200 retainer refund check made payable to Schmeets from another attorney who had reviewed the cases and declined representation. Stensland admits that he scanned Schmeets's signature from another document onto the back of the check and deposited it into his trust account, but claims Schmeets authorized him to do so. Schmeets denied authorizing Stensland to scan the signature onto the check. Stensland did not provide a written fee agreement or retainer agreement when the check was deposited.
[¶3] On May 12, 2008, Stensland represented Schmeets at the jury trial in Sheridan County. Schmeets was acquitted on one charge but convicted on others. See State v. Schmeets, 2009 ND 163, 772 N.W.2d 623. On June 3, 2008, Stensland appeared before this Court and argued Schmeets's appeal from an order revoking Schmeets's probation from an earlier conviction. The appeal had been filed and briefed by another attorney. See State v. Schmeets, 2008 ND 119, 756 N.W.2d 344.
[¶4] On June 23, 2008, a written plea agreement and waiver of appearance in the Wells County matter was filed with the district court. The document was dated June 20, 2008, and bore signatures of Schmeets, Stensland, and the state's attorney. After a judgment of conviction was entered upon the plea agreement, Schmeets petitioned for post-conviction relief, alleging he had not signed the plea agreement. The State and Schmeets ultimately stipulated to entry of an amended criminal judgment lessening the penalties imposed upon Schmeets.
[¶5] Schmeets claims he never signed the original plea agreement and was incarcerated at the state penitentiary at that time. Stensland denies affixing Schmeets's signature and testified he did not recall or have an explanation for how the document got signed, but remembered discussions about having a Schmeets family member take the document to Schmeets for his signature. A handwriting expert testified, "There are good indications that the questioned signature was not authored by Jeffrey Schmeets or was not a genuine signature as authored by Jeffrey Schmeets."
[¶6] On August 18, 2008, Stensland represented Schmeets at the sentencing hearing on the Sheridan County convictions and at a corresponding civil forfeiture hearing. At the conclusion of the hearings Stensland and Schmeets had a short conference, and Schmeets requested a refund of unearned fees from the $9,200 ...