In the Matter of the Application for Disciplinary Action Against Rudolph A. Tollefson, a Person Admitted to the Bar of the State of North Dakota
Rudolph A. Tollefson, Respondent Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota, Petitioner
[¶ 1] The Court has before it a Revised Stipulation, Consent to Discipline and Recommendations by the Hearing Panel, recommending Rudolph A. Tollefson be disbarred from the practice of law in North Dakota. The Hearing Panel concluded Tollefson violated N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.3, 1.4, 1.16(e), 5.5(a); and N.D.R. Lawyer Discipl. 1.2(A)(3) in three consolidated matters. We disbar Tollefson and order him to pay the costs and expenses of these disciplinary proceedings. We order Tollefson to refund unearned fees to five clients, and to provide an accounting of fees and expenses to two clients and refund any amounts collected for fees that have not been earned or expenses that have not been incurred.
[¶ 2] Tollefson was admitted to practice law in North Dakota on September 27, 2004. On September 23, 2008, Tollefson was suspended from the practice of law for six months, effective October 23, 2008. Disciplinary Board v. Tollefson, 2008 ND 177, 755 N.W.2d 912. We reinstated Tollefson on June 3, 2009, and he resumed practicing law. On August 8, 2011, Tollefson was suspended from the practice of law for non-payment of child support under N.D.C.C. § 50-09-08.6, and he was reinstated on June 16, 2011. He was suspended under N.D.C.C. § 50-09-08.6 on August 9, 2011, and reinstated on August 26, 2011. He was suspended under N.D.C.C. § 50-09-08.6 on October 5, 2011, and reinstated on December 15, 2011. Tollefson did not renew his license for 2012, and was not licensed between January 1, 2012, and May 15, 2012. On May 14, 2012, Tollefson was suspended for six months and one day, effective May 15, 2012. Disciplinary Board v. Tollefson, 2012 ND 92, 816 N.W.2d 766. He also agreed to participate in the Lawyer's Assistance Program. Id. Tollefson has not been licensed to practice law in North Dakota since January 1, 2012.
[¶ 3] This matter originally came before the Court through a Stipulation, Consent to Discipline and Recommendations by the Hearing Panel filed on January 28, 2013. The hearing panel recommended Tollefson's suspension in Tollefson, 2012 ND 92, 816 N.W.2d 766, be extended for two-years; and that Tollefson participate in the Lawyer Assistance Program; refund unearned fees to various individuals; provide an accounting of fees and expenses and refund any unearned fees or expenses to two additional individuals; and pay the costs of disciplinary costs and expenses for violations of the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct.
[¶ 4] We rejected the stipulation, consent to discipline, and recommendations by the hearing panel, and remanded the matter to the hearing panel for further proceedings. We now consider the Revised Stipulation, Consent to Discipline, and Recommendations by the Hearing Panel filed after remand.
[¶ 5] This matter involves three formal disciplinary proceedings against Tollefson, File Nos. 5284-NE-1201, 5293-NE-1202, and 5298-NE-1202. Tollefson admitted to the following facts with regard to these three matters. The misconduct in these matters occurred prior to Tollefson's suspension effective May 15, 2012, in Tollefson, 2012 ND 92, 816 N.W.2d 766. During that time, Tollefson was experiencing personal or emotional problems, as well as alcohol abuse.
File No. 5284-NE-1201
[¶ 6] In October of 2011, Carla E. Bjornson retained Tollefson to represent her in a parental responsibility dispute between Bjornson's brother, Gary Johnson and Courtney Zettler, the mother of Johnson's minor child. In October of 2011, Tollefson drafted a stipulation and parenting plan for the signatures of Johnson and Zettler. On October 20, 2011, Bjornson made a $500 payment to Tollefson. On that date, Tollefson gave Bjornson the stipulation and parenting plan with the understanding Bjornson would secure the signatures of Johnson and Zettler, which she did. Bjornson provided the signed stipulation and parenting plan to Tollefson on November 1, 2011. Tollefson told Bjornson he would file the stipulation with the court that day. Between November 1, 2011, and November 16, 2011, Tollefson repeatedly and falsely told Bjornson that he filed the stipulation and parenting plan. On November 16, 2011, Bjornson contacted the Clerk of District Court for Ramsey County. The Clerk informed Bjornson that Tollefson did not file stipulation and parenting plan and that Tollefson's license was suspended. Tollefson failed to inform Bjornson of the periods in which his license to practice law was suspended. Tollefson held himself out as Bjornson's lawyer, took actions as her lawyer, or both during periods in which his license was suspended. Although Tollefson promised Bjornson a full refund of the $500 she paid, he failed to account for or refund any unearned funds.
File Nos. 5293-NE-1202
[¶ 7] In May of 2011, Peter Owlboy, Jr., retained Tollefson to represent him regarding parental responsibility issues. Owlboy paid Tollefson $1, 350.00, the last $100.00 of which was paid in December of 2011. Tollefson failed to complete the work for Owlboy and failed to inform Owlboy of the periods in which his license to practice law was suspended. Tollefson held himself out as Owlboy's lawyer, took actions as his lawyer, or both during periods in which his license was suspended. In December of 2011, Owlboy learned Tollefson's license to practice law was under suspension. Although Tollefson promised Owlboy a full refund of the $1, 350 he paid, Tollefson failed to account for or refund any unearned funds.
File No. 5298-NE-1202
[¶ 8] This matter involves five clients of Tollefson: Donald Senger, Jody A. Sowatzki, Ronald Senger, Terry Anvik, and Jacklynn Davis.
[¶ 9] In August of 2009, Donald Senger retained Tollefson to file a bankruptcy petition for him. At Tollefson's suggestion, Senger delayed filing for bankruptcy for one year, pending the outcome of a United States Supreme Court case involving the dischargeability of student loan debt in chapter 13 bankruptcy. Subsequently, Tollefson repeatedly assured Senger the bankruptcy petition would be or had been filed. When Senger checked with the clerk of bankruptcy court, he was told that, contrary to Tollefson's statements, nothing had been filed. When Senger attempted to file forms drafted by Tollefson, he was advised by the clerk of bankruptcy court that the papers were not in proper form and did not include a notice to creditors. Tollefson failed to inform Senger of the periods in which his license to practice law was suspended. Tollefson held himself out as Senger's lawyer, took actions as his lawyer, or both during periods in which his license was suspended. Although Tollefson promised Senger a full refund of the $500 he paid, Tollefson has only refunded $300.
[¶ 10] In June of 2010, Sowatzki paid Tollefson $350 to represent her in her divorce action. Tollefson drafted an answer to the complaint, but he failed to file it. Tollefson falsely informed Jody Sowatzki that he filed her answer. As a result, Jody Sowatzki was forced to expend resources for new counsel to defend a ...