In the Matter of the Application for Disciplinary Action Against John D. Bruhn, a Member of the Bar of the State of North Dakota
John D. Bruhn, Respondent Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota, Petitioner
1] The Court has before it the findings of fact, conclusions
of law, and recommendations of a hearing panel of the
Disciplinary Board recommending John D. Bruhn be suspended
from the practice of law in North Dakota for 60 days with a
one-year probation following his suspension, he work with the
Lawyer Assistance Program on his law office management, he
complete six hours of continuing legal education classes
focused on diligence and client communication, and he pay the
costs of the disciplinary proceeding for violations of the
North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct. We accept the
hearing panel's findings, conclusions, and
2] Bruhn was admitted to practice law in North Dakota on
October 9, 2014, and he is currently licensed to practice
law. He is also licensed to practice in Florida.
3] A petition for discipline was served on Bruhn. On March 8,
2018, Disciplinary Counsel filed a motion for default. Bruhn
failed to answer the petition, and he is in default. The
charges in the petition for discipline are deemed admitted
under N.D.R. Lawyer Discipl. 3.1(E)(2).
4] Bruhn maintained a law practice in Dickinson with Marla L.
Bruhn. The Bruhns would frequently appear on behalf of each
other without informing the client or obtaining the
client's consent. The Bruhns were often co-counsel
representing clients. Related to these disciplinary matters,
Bruhn represented 14 clients in criminal matters and 1 client
in a civil matter.
5] Bruhn failed to adequately communicate with his clients
and provided some with inaccurate information. He failed to
notify clients of hearings, failed to appear for hearings,
and failed to adequately prepare. Due to his failure to
adequately communicate with his clients, some failed to
appear in court. He made false statements to the district
court. He or Marla L. Bruhn were late for hearings. He also
failed to respond to a motion in the civil matter.
6] The hearing panel concluded Bruhn's conduct violated
N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.1, Competence, by failing to represent
his clients with the legal knowledge, skill, and thoroughness
and preparation reasonably necessary to competently represent
the client; N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.2(a); Scope of
Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and
Lawyer, by failing to abide by his client's decisions
concerning the objectives of representation and as required
by Rule 1.4, consult with the client about the means by which
they are to be pursued, by taking action beyond any implied
authorization that he may have had, and by failing to abide
by a client's decision regarding pleas or whether to
proceed to trial; N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.3, Diligence, by
failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in
representing his clients; N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.4,
Communication, by failing to promptly inform the client of
any decision or circumstance with respect to which the
client's consent is required, by failing to reasonably
consult with the client about the means by which the
client's objectives are to be accomplished, by failing to
make reasonable efforts to keep the client reasonably
informed about the status of a matter, by failing to promptly
comply with the client's reasonable requests for
information, and by failing to explain matters to the extent
reasonably necessary to permit clients to make informed
decisions regarding their representation; and N.D.R. Prof.
Conduct 3.3, Candor Toward the Tribunal, by knowingly making
false statements of fact or law to the tribunal.
7] When considering an appropriate sanction, the hearing
panel considered the aggravating factors under by N.D. Stds.
Imposing Lawyer Sanctions 9.22 of prior disciplinary
offenses, a pattern of misconduct, and multiple offenses. The
hearing panel concluded Bruhn's conduct falls within the
guidance provided by N.D. Stds. Imposing Lawyer Sanctions
4.42, 4.53, 4.63, and 6.12. The hearing panel recognized the
recommend sanctions for the various violations ranged from
reprimand to suspension, and looked to our precedent to
arrive at a recommended sanction:
In looking to case law in North Dakota, the length of the
suspension based on precedent is difficult to determine
because there are numerous clients involved, with several
rule violations, but no violations regarding misuse of client
funds. In looking at similar suspensions involving violations
of Rule 1.3 and Rule 1.4, N.D.R. Prof. Conduct, a suspension
of sixty (60) days is merited. See Disciplinary Board v.
Jensen, 2012 ND 187, 821 N.W.2d 372 (suspension for 30
days for violations of Rule 1.3 and 1.4, N.D.R. Prof.
Conduct, involving one client); Disciplinary Board v.
Huisman, 2015 ND 286, 872 N.W.2d 336 (suspension for 60
days for violations of Rules 1.3 and 1.4, N.D.R. Prof.
Conduct, involving one client); but see Disciplinary
Board v. Matson, 2015 ND 222, 869 N.W.2d 128 (suspension
for six months and a day for violations of Rule 1.1, 1.3,
l.4(a), l.5(a), l.15(a), and l.16(e), which involved three
clients, but also involved issues with fee disputes and
mishandling client funds).
hearing panel also explained their findings and reason for
their recommended sanctions, stating:
The violations stem from an overall lack of organization with
respect to handling client cases that the Panel would like to
see corrected by Bruhn. To heighten the sanction from the
suspensions within Jensen and Huisman, in
accordance with Standard 2.6, N.D. Stds. Imposing Lawyer
Sanctions, it is being recommended that Bruhn be placed on
probation for a period of one year, during which he is to
avoid any findings of similar violations and that he work
with the Lawyer Assistance Program on his law office
management in accordance with Standard 2.6 and 2.7(g).
8] Considering all relevant factors, the hearing panel
concluded a 60-day suspension followed by one-year of
probation is an appropriate sanction. It also recommended
Bruhn pay the costs and expenses of these disciplinary
proceedings in the amount of $250.
9] This matter was referred to the Supreme Court under N.D.R.
Lawyer Discipl. 3.1(F). Objections to the hearing panel's
findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations were
due within 20 days of the service of the report of the