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Justices suspend Halunen indefinitely for sex harassment

Clayton Halunen, of Halunen Law in Minneapolis, has been indefinitely suspended from the practice of law with no right to petition for reinstatement for one year.

Although the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility in October recommended a six-month suspension, followed by two years of supervised probation, the Minnesota Supreme Court thought that was inadequate for a lawyer who sexually harassed vulnerable male employees.

In its order, filed Thursday, the court reviewed the conduct leading to discipline:

Halunen engaged in sexual misconduct for 2½ years with subordinates in his firm. A 19-year-old employee was subjected to Halunen groping him, unwantedly kissing him, soliciting sex through text messages, soliciting explicit photos, and sexual relations. The employee felt unable to reject Halunen’s advances for fear of losing his job. When the employee did quit his position and described the sexual misconduct he suffered, Halunen threatened him with criminal charges and told him not to obtain counsel.

A second-year law student worked for Halunen as an extern. Halunen communicated with the extern on social media, making repeated sexual and salacious comments to him, and made unwanted sexual advances toward the extern on a trip out of state and another trip to Halunen’s cabin. The extern did not reciprocate Halunen’s contact, and he was informed that a tentative job offer was withdrawn and could only be earned by his “performance.”

Justices Anne K. McKeig and Gordon Moore concurred in part and dissented in part. In her concurrence and dissent, McKeig said Halunen’s misconduct warranted a longer suspension than one year; she recommended an indefinite suspension with no right to petition for reinstatement for 18 to 24 months. “A one-year suspension does not sufficiently reflect the seriousness of Halunen’s misconduct and the harm it causes to the legal profession and public perception of the profession,” McKeig wrote. “He used his position as an attorney and employer to pressure his employees into acquiescing to his sexual advances. He also used his position as a prominent attorney to intimidate, threaten, and mislead his victims after they quit.”

The indefinite suspension is effective on April 13.

In October, the OLPR filed a petition for discipline, noting that Halunen had stipulated to the misconduct and waived his right to answer. The OLPR supplied a memorandum with the petition and stipulation noting Halunen’s genuine remorse and steps he had taken to address the issue at his office and elsewhere, including removing himself from hiring administrative support personnel and establishing a workplace hotline to report employee concerns.

He also participated in therapy and marriage counseling with his husband, the memorandum stated. The memorandum also noted that his treating psychologist said there was a “vanishingly small, virtually no, probability of recurrence of the behavior.”


Sex harassment results in lawyer discipline

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