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Griffith: Drug reaction led to bad sexual conduct

Clark Griffith II says the sexual misconduct that led the Minnesota Supreme Court to indefinitely suspend his law license back in 2013 was caused by a bad reaction to the prescription blood thinner.

“Absolutely, I believe it. This was so out of character for me,” Griffith told a three-member panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, which met in St. Paul on Wednesday to consider his petition for reinstatement.

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

A well-known sports attorney and son of the former Minnesota Twins owner, Griffith said he began taking the blood thinner in 2011 after developing a life-threatening blood clot in his leg. He said the drug left him chronically sleep-deprived, caused him to faint on at least two occasions, and led to two hospitalizations over a four-month period.

Griffith, 74, apologized for his interactions with the student at the William Mitchell College of Law, where he worked as an adjunct professor.

“I believe this misconduct was serious and I am deeply ashamed of it,” he said.

The Minnesota Supreme Court suspended Griffith for a minimum of 90 days for sexually harassing the student and then repeatedly contacting her after she complained to the school and police. She is now suing him.

Griffith later entered an Alford plea to one count of indecent exposure in connection with the most salacious allegation. Following dinner with the student at a St Paul restaurant, he escorted her to her vehicle, when he then purportedly unzipped his pants, exposed himself and placed the woman’s hand on his genitals.

Despite his admissions in a prior stipulation, Griffith said at Wednesday’s hearing that he does not recollect that aspect of the encounter. He also maintained there was “wrongdoing on both sides,” saying that the former student flirted with him and had said some “very suggestive stuff.”

The characterizations elicited a pushback from Julie Bennett, senior assistant director for the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.

“He again today is back to blaming the victim,” said Bennett. Asserting that Griffith had not demonstrated the requisite “moral change” and has “little insight into his conduct,” Bennett urged the panel to reject Griffith’s plea for reinstatement.

Bennett expressed skepticism about Griffith’s claims about the bad drug interaction, noting that he didn’t raise the issue previously. Similarly, she said, Griffith is now denying memories of events that he previously admitted to.

Griffith acted as his own attorney at the 2½-hour hearing, but he brought in plenty of legal firepower as character witnesses.

“Other than this event, I’m not aware of any other blemish on his character,” said James Rosenbaum, the former chief federal judge in Minnesota. Rosenbaum said he has known Griffith since 1966, when they met at the University of Minnesota law school and subsequently bonded over a shared love of baseball.

He characterized Griffith as “sincerely contrite.”

Rosenbaum flashed a bit of anger about the OLPR investigation. When a paralegal called with questions about Griffith, Rosenbaum acknowledged that he abruptly terminated the discussion. Why didn’t he answer more of the paralegal’s questions, asked Christopher Cain, the Mankato attorney who served as the panel chair.

Rosenbaum responded that he was “furious” that she did not properly identify herself — “that’s not the way investigations are handled” — and he vowed to send a formal letter of complaint.

Attorney David Martin, a former gang member from St. Paul who did prison time before turning his life around, also testified on Griffith’s behalf.

Martin said he met Griffith in 2012 when Griffith — under court order — began attending a twice-monthly support group sessions for African-American men who are mired in the criminal justice system. Martin, who served as a mentor to the group, said he found Griffith to be “candid, honest and truthful.”

If Griffith’s law license is reinstated, he intends to provide legal assistance to some of those men. “We need more people who are dedicated to the cause,” Martin added.

But Bennett pressed Martin on the question of whether or not Griffith is truly a changed man.

At those support group meetings, according to Martin, Griffith was still casting himself as a victim until other members challenged him and he owned up to his wrongdoing. But as recently as an October 8 meeting at the OLPR, according to Bennett, Griffith portrayed his former student as the aggressor.

Would that change Martin’s view of Griffith’s “moral change?”

No, not necessarily, Martin responded.

Three other character witnesses took the stand on Griffith’s behalf: Jay Swanson, a corporate lawyer and partner at Dorsey & Whitney, Michael Bryant, personal injury lawyer and partner at Bradshaw & Bryant, and Gary Roberts, former dean of the Indiana University School of Law.

Roberts, who has known Griffith for three decades, said he flew to Minnesota to testify at the hearing because he feels strongly that Griffith ought to have his law license reinstated. He described Griffith as “a highly respected figure” in the sports law arena.

Roberts described the incident that landed Griffith in hot water as “completely out of character” and “phenomenally stupid” but, also, extremely unlikely to be repeated.

In his closing argument, Griffith said he met all the requirements for reinstatement, including a demonstration of moral change.

“The moral change occurred when I recognized I caused this entire problem,” he said. “I didn’t maintain the appropriate [teacher-student] distance. If I had done so, there would have been no misconduct.”

He said he had “an epiphany” last went winter when he came to that realization.

However, Griffith seemed to get tripped up by some of the questions from the panel members, including repeated queries as to whether Griffith had committed a criminal act.

“I’m not sure. I don’t know if I exposed myself. I can’t speak accurately to what happened,” he said.

But what about his Alford plea to indecent exposure? What about the stipulation?

“There was a fog of war all this,” said Griffith. “I signed things. I admitted things. I had a part in this.”

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