The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent Joseph Daniel Roach and referee was appointed. After a hearing, the referee determined that Roach committed professional misconduct while handling a divorce matter for a client. The referee concluded that Roach committed misconduct by charging a higher hourly rate than the client agreed to pay and by threatening to withhold client files until the client paid Roach’s bills. No party challenged these conclusions. The referee also concluded that Roach failed to provide competent representation and failed to adequately communicate with his client. Roach asserted that these conclusions were erroneous because he secured a favorable resolution for his client and remained in communication with the client. Finally, the referee found that Roach did not charge unreasonable fees. The Director asserted that this conclusion was erroneous because Roach billed a high hourly rate despite lacking relevant experience and recorded more hours for certain tasks than the Director believes reasonable.
The Supreme Court held that (1) the referee’s findings that respondent violated Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.1 and 1.4(b), but that the Director failed to prove a violation of Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 1.5(b), were not clearly erroneous; and (2) a public reprimand and 2 years of supervised probation is the appropriate discipline for respondent who failed to provide competent representation, failed to adequately communicate with clients, charged fees that his client did not agree to, and threatened to withhold client files until his fee was paid. Publicly reprimanded and placed on supervised probation.