The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent Peter James Nickitas, alleging that Nickitas violated the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct by (1) failing to properly apply for in forma pauperis status for his client; (2) using profane and abusive language while communicating with court staff; (3) making false and disparaging comments about a judge; and (4) attempting to exert improper pressure on a judge. Following a hearing, the referee concluded that Nickitas’s conduct violated Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1, 1.3, 4.4(a), 8.2(a), and 8.4(d). The referee found that Nickitas’s history of prior discipline for similar conduct, his long experience as a lawyer, and his lack of remorse for his misconduct were aggravating factors. The referee did not find any mitigating factors, but he did state that Nickitas’s current work with legal aid was a factor to consider when fashioning discipline. The referee recommended that Nickitas be suspended from law indefinitely, with no right to petition for reinstatement under Rule 18 until he fulfilled a minimum suspension period of 120 days. The referee proposed that, if practicable, Nickitas should serve his suspension in a series of four discrete 30-day suspensions separated by limited interim periods when he could practice law and represent his legal aid clients. Both parties agreed that the staggered suspension was not practical.
The Supreme Court held that a 120-day minimum suspension, after which the lawyer may petition for reinstatement, is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who used profane, abusive, and obscene language while communicating with court staff; made false and disparaging comments about a judge; and attempted to exert improper influence on a judge. Suspended.
This opinion addressed appeals by petitioner—which were consolidated for purposes of this opinion—from two orders issued by the District Court denying petitioner’s separate requests for postconviction relief. Petitioner’s conviction for first-degree murder was upheld in 2013, the denial of his first postconviction petition was upheld in 2016, and the denial of his motion to correct his sentence was upheld in 2018. Petitioner here challenged the District Court’s denial of his motion under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 to vacate the denial of his first postconviction petition and the District Court’s denial of his second postconviction petition.
The Supreme Court held that (1) the District Court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant’s motion for relief from judgment under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02; and (2) the District Court did not abuse its discretion by summarily denying petitioner’s second petition for postconviction relief because the claims are time barred. Affirmed.
General Rules of Practice
The Supreme Court promulgated amendments to rules 114 and 310, correcting scrivener’s errors that were introduced in a July 13, 2022, order. The amendments were effective January 1, 2023.