The Minnesota Supreme Court has denied the petition for reinstatement of a Minnesota attorney. While the attorney intended to resign his law license after being reinstated, and the justices agreed he underwent the requisite moral change for reinstatement, the court decided July 12 that he failed to demonstrate the intellectual competence to practice law.
The ruling drew dissents from two justices.
William Mose began practicing law in Minnesota 1984, starting in a solo law practice in the Twin Cities area. He then moved to the Pequot Lakes area. While Mose was admitted to practice law since 1980, he was engaged in the active practice of law for only five of those years: from 1984 to 1985 and then from 1986 to 1990.
Although Mose practiced for only five years, he accumulated multiple disciplinary actions during that time. In all, the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) received 19 complaints against Mose. All of those complaints resulted in discipline.
Mose was publicly reprimanded in 1989 after the director of OLPR received three complaints stemming from client neglect, failing to follow court orders, and incompetence. He was required to take a trial advocacy course and was placed on supervised probation for two years. Mose did not comply with the probation conditions and had additional client-related misconduct, including making false statements to clients. Mose received four admonitions between 1989 and 1990. In 1990, Mose was indefinitely suspended from the practice of law.
During the suspension, the OLPR informed the court that Mose committed misconduct in eight additional client matters. This included not refunding unearned retainer fees, not adequately communicating with clients, and failure to cooperate with the investigations by the OLPR. As a result, Mose was suspended for a minimum of five years.
In 2007, Mose petitioned for reinstatement, which was denied by the court because Mose had not satisfied conditions of reinstatement or demonstrated the requisite moral change. Mose also petitioned for reinstatement in 2012, and the court again concluded that Mose should not be reinstated, this time for failure to complete a trial advocacy course.
In 2020, Mose petitioned the court for reinstatement again. Mose now wishes to become an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) neutral, providing mediation services to parents having family issues following divorce. However, one is not able to be placed on the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s roster of qualified neutrals with a suspended law license.
A panel of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board held a hearing on this matter in October 2021. It recommended reinstatement on the condition that Mose immediately resign his law license. The director and Mose stipulated that Mose would be reinstated and immediately resign and not apply for admission in Minnesota or another state.
However, the court rejected this arrangement, determining that Mose was not competent to practice law. Although the court noted that Mose had passed the bar exam three times and had met the CLE requirements, it concluded that this was inadequate to show competence to practice law. The court maintained that Mose needed to show that he was working successfully in areas directly related to the law.
“Crucially, there was no testimony that Mose was successful in his law-related positions. This is important, because in 2008 and 2014, we noted that Mose had demonstrated a pattern of incompetence in his work and volunteer positions,” the court wrote.
The majority also expressed concern that, while Mose was not planning on practicing law, he was entering a field intertwined with legal practice.
“It would seem to violate the spirit — and perhaps the letter — of those rules to allow an attorney who practiced family law for only approximately five years, 30 years ago, before he was suspended, and who committed serious misconduct during those five years, to be reinstated and permitted to hold himself out as a ‘qualified practitioner’ in family law without demonstrating that he is currently fit to practice law,” the court concluded.
Justices Margaret Chutich and Paul Thissen dissented.
“We should not stand in the way of Mose getting on with his life in a non-lawyer capacity,” maintained Thissen. “One may reasonably ask, why should we care about Mose’s intellectual competence to practice law if he is not going to practice law?”
The dissent declared the intellectual competence bar was unfair in this case.
“[I]it is ironic that the reason the court finds that Mose has not demonstrated that he is intellectually competent to return to the practice of law following his suspension is because he has not shown enough experience in law-related work,” Thissen avowed. “It creates a bit of a Catch-22 and a somewhat manufactured and unfair hurdle, especially for suspended lawyers who must otherwise earn a living because they cannot practice law.”
“It also demonstrates a lack of compassion to address the mental health issues that resulted in his suspension and who wishes to contribute to society in a non-lawyer function,” added Thissen.