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In re Varriano

Supreme Court of North Dakota

December 11, 2015

In the Matter of the Application for Reinstatement of Richard D. Varriano, a Person Admitted to the Bar of the State of North Dakota; Richard D. Varriano, Petitioner
Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, Respondent


On Petition for Reinstatement.

Per Curiam.

[¶1] Richard D. Varriano, Bar I.D. 04561, was admitted as an attorney in North Dakota on January 5, 1998. Varriano was reciprocally suspended for one year effective February 1, 2010, after Minnesota suspended Varriano for one year for several forms of misconduct, including representation of clients with clear conflicts of interest and using a trust account to shelter personal funds from the Internal Revenue Service. Disciplinary Board v. Varriano, 2010 ND 12, 777 N.W.2d 852. Varriano has not previously sought reinstatement and has, therefore, been suspended from the practice law in North Dakota since February 1, 2010.

[¶2] On May 28, 2015, Varriano filed a Petition for Reinstatement with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court. The matter was assigned to a hearing panel of the Disciplinary Board, and after consideration of the petition, evidence, testimony, and arguments, the hearing panel filed its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations on November 25, 2015. Varriano has not sought reinstatement in Minnesota, and he does not intend to do so.

[¶3] Varriano attributed his prior misconduct to alcoholism. Varriano has been sober since March 19, 2011, after he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Thereafter, Varriano completed inpatient and outpatient treatment for alcoholism. An addiction counselor who completed a chemical dependency evaluation in advance of Varriano's reinstatement hearing concluded Varriano met the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder, Moderate, in sustained remission. Varriano attends Alcoholics Anonymous and has a sponsor. He attends Mass. and he exercises daily, both of which he considers aftercare helping him maintain his sobriety. Varriano believes he would have used better judgment with respect to his conduct prior to his suspensions if he had been sober. Based on the chemical dependency evaluation and the testimony of the licensed addiction counselor who did the evaluation, the hearing panel found Varriano is rehabilitated to the extent possible.

Page 339

[¶4] After his suspension in Minnesota but before his suspension in North Dakota, Varriano began working as a paralegal for Craig Richie in Fargo, North Dakota. Riche has near daily interaction with Varriano and has never observed any indication Varriano used alcohol. The hearing panel found Varriano's activities as a paralegal were not the unauthorized practice of law.

[¶5] Richie worked with Varriano to become current on his continuing legal education. Richie is willing to be Varriano's supervising attorney and is willing to supervise the financial aspects of Varriano's practice if Varriano is readmitted. Richie agreed to discuss with Varriano how files will be handled if Varriano relapsed or needed to leave the practice of law for another reason.

[¶6] The hearing panel concluded Varriano has the requisite fitness and competence to practice law, that he complied with the terms and conditions of all applicable disciplinary orders and rules, that he has not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law during his suspension, that he has not engaged in professional misconduct since his suspension, that alcohol use was a causative factor in his misconduct, that he completed rehabilitation and has successfully abstained from alcohol, that he recognized the wrongfulness and seriousness of the conduct for which he was suspended, and that he has the requisite honesty and integrity to practice law.

[¶7] The hearing panel further concluded that precautions should be taken to ensure that the public is protected upon Varriano's return to the practice of law. Varriano agreed to the following conditions:

(1) that he pay for the costs of the proceedings;
(2) that he comply with the continuing legal education requirements of the admission to practice rules;
(3) that a limitation be placed on Varriano's practice requiring association with an experienced supervising lawyer;
(4) that he work with the supervising lawyer on the financial management of his law practice, fee agreements, avoiding conflicts of interest, ...

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