In the Matter of the Application for Disciplinary Action Against Robert V. Bolinske, a Person Admitted to the Bar of the State of North Dakota
Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota, Petitioner
Robert V. Bolinske, Sr., Respondent
Application for disciplinary action.
J. Erickson, Bismarck, ND, for petitioner.
V. Bolinske, Sr., self-represented, Bismarck, ND.
Robert Bolinske, Sr., objects to Disciplinary Board Hearing
Panel's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and
recommendation that he be suspended from the practice of law
for 30 days and pay $5, 000 restitution to both Mark Carter
and Gary and Teresa Watson. Bolinske argues the hearing panel
erred by finding he violated N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.5(a),
1.15(e), and 1.16(e) and recommending he be suspended. We
conclude clear and convincing evidence does not support
finding Bolinske violated N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.5(a) and
1.15(e). We conclude clear and convincing evidence
established Bolinske violated N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.16(e) by
failing to return case files to Carter and the Watsons after
representation was terminated. We order Bolinske be
reprimanded and pay partial costs and expenses of the
disciplinary proceeding in the amount of $3, 300. We remand
File no. 20190110 to the hearing panel for determination
whether Bolinske violated Rule 1.16(e) by failing to refund
to the Watsons any unearned portion of the $10, 000 fee they
Bolinske was admitted to practice law in North Dakota in
1975, but he is not currently licensed in this state.
In June 2018, disciplinary counsel petitioned to discipline
Bolinske, alleging he violated N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.5(a)
(reasonable fees), 1.15(e) (safekeeping of property), and
1.16(e) (terminating representation) in connection with his
representation of Carter and the Watsons. Disciplinary
counsel alleged Bolinske agreed to and collected unreasonable
fees from Carter and the Watsons, he failed to properly
maintain possession of property in which two or more persons
claimed an interest until the dispute was resolved, he failed
to return Carter's and the Watsons' files after they
terminated his representation, and he failed to refund
unearned fees. Bolinske denied the alleged misconduct and
requested the charges be dismissed.
After receiving testimony from Bolinske and admitting
exhibits from both parties, the hearing panel found clear and
convincing evidence Bolinske violated all three rules. The
hearing panel recommended Bolinske be suspended from the
practice of law for 30 days, refund unearned fees to Carter
and the Watsons in the amount of $5, 000 each, and pay the
costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings.
Bolinske argues the hearing panel erred by finding there was
clear and convincing evidence he violated N.D.R. Prof.
Conduct 1.5(a), 1.15(e), and 1.16(e).
We have summarized our standard in disciplinary proceedings:
"This Court reviews disciplinary proceedings de novo on
the record. Disciplinary counsel must prove each alleged
violation by clear and convincing evidence, which means the
trier of fact must be reasonably satisfied with the facts the
evidence tends to prove and thus be led to a firm belief or
conviction. The evidence need not be undisputed to be clear
and convincing. We give due weight to the findings,
conclusions, and recommendations of the Disciplinary Board,
but we do not act as a mere rubber stamp for the Board. To
decide which sanction, if any, is appropriate, each
disciplinary matter must be considered on its own facts.
"Because the hearing panel has the opportunity to hear
witnesses and observe their demeanor, we accord special
deference to the panel's findings on matters of
conflicting evidence. Similarly, we defer to the hearing
panel's findings on the credibility of a witness, because
the hearing panel has the opportunity to observe the
witness's demeanor and hear the witness testify."
In re Disciplinary Action Against Ward, 2016 ND 113,
¶ 7, 881 N.W.2d 206 (quoting Disciplinary Bd. v.
Carpenter, 2015 ND 111, ¶ 9, 863 N.W.2d 223)
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
Disciplinary counsel alleged Bolinske violated "Rule
1.5(a), N.D.R. Prof. Conduct, by making an agreement for,
charging, or collecting an unreasonable fee due to failure to
follow Rule 1.5(c), regarding contingent fees, by including a
provision for fixed $10, 000 fee within the fee
agreement." Rule 1.5(a), N.D.R. Prof. Conduct, prohibits
unreasonable fees, and states:
"A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or
collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for
expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the
reasonableness of a fee include the following:
(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty
of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform
the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the
acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other
employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or
lawyers performing the services; and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent."
Although executed at different times, Bolinske's fee
agreements with Carter and the Watsons are identical. The
"Contingent Fees for Services. I agree to pay
my attorney for his services 33 1/3% of whatever amount is
actually recovered as a result of trial or settlement. If no
recovery is made, I will owe my attorney nothing for his
labor and time spent. In addition, there shall be paid a
non-refundable $10, 000.00 retainer payment which amount