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High-profile lawyer challenges possible disbarment over tragic death case

Laura Brown//July 21, 2023

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High-profile lawyer challenges possible disbarment over tragic death case

Laura Brown//July 21, 2023

Randy Hopper, a high-profile Minnesota attorney with four decades in the legal field, faces possible disbarment for allegedly failing to provide competent representation, not communicating adequately with clients, and misappropriating client funds.

Hopper’s counsel, Barry O’Neil, shareholder at Lommen Abdo, insists that the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) has misunderstood Hopper’s “extensive efforts” and has omitted several critical facts from its petition for discipline.

On June 30, the OLPR filed a petition seeking “disbarment or otherwise appropriate discipline” of Hopper due to Hopper’s involvement in a case brought by parents of a deceased 19-year-old University of Minnesota student. Jacob Anderson was discovered outside in 2013. First responders believed Anderson was already deceased from hypothermia and did not engage in life-saving efforts. It is possible that Anderson instead died at the morgue and could have survived had first-responders attempted to render aid.

Anderson’s parents retained Hopper, who has represented individuals in serious personal injury cases, to bring a case against Hennepin County Medical Center and the city of Minneapolis. However, the OLPR claimed that Hopper made numerous mistakes in the case that ultimately prevented the parents from getting justice.

Hopper originally filed a wrongful death case. Under Minnesota law, the case must be filed by a court-appointed trustee for the decedent. However, Anderson’s parents were listed as the plaintiffs individually, with Anderson’s father listed as personal representative of his son’s estate. Since the plaintiffs did not have standing, and the statute of limitations had expired on the negligence claims, the case was dismissed.

O’Neill stresses that the petition shows a “general lack of understanding of the complex legal strategies and professional judgments” used by Hopper. “The charges entirely ignore Mr. Hopper’s extensive efforts to obtain an optimal outcome on a better potential claim—under 42 U.S.C. § 1983—that was aimed at maximizing the possible compensation for Jacob Anderson’s parents after his tragic death.”

In February 2017, Hopper informed the parents that he was going to change the strategy of the case and file a civil rights case. “After extensive consultation with both medical experts in the area of pathophysiology of severe hypothermia and noted Constitutional-law scholars, Mr. Hopper focused his efforts on the Andersons’ Constitutional claims,” O’Neill affirms. “In other words, Mr. Hopper exercised thorough and considered professional judgment to correctly discern that the Andersons’ claim under the United States Constitution was their best potential claim and vigorously pursued that claim.” The constitutional claims were later dismissed on the ground of qualified immunity.

“The misguided focus on the ill-fated state law claim in the petition appears to be a purposeful effort to falsely impugn Mr. Hopper’s professional reputation through revisionist history,” O’Neill avows.

Anderson’s parents also allege that they paid Hopper $66,500 toward out-of-pocket expenses, which they assert was not payment for Hopper’s attorney fees. The OLPR claims that Hopper can only account for less than $28,000. O’Neill claims that the “petition intentionally disregards the terms of the parties’ July 2015 retainer agreement.”

The terms, O’Neill maintains, demonstrate that the majority of the funds were provided for attorney fees. O’Neill asserts that the fees billed under the 2015 retainer agreement were charged at a “substantially discounted rate” and that Hopper did not even receive full payment for the legal services rendered and expenses incurred for the case. “Ignoring this material evidence to contrive a serious claim of misappropriation and to disseminate this misleading allegation with a public press release is unfairly prejudicial to Mr. Hopper and inappropriate,” O’Neill asserts.

The OLPR did not respond to request for comment.

“While Mr. Hopper sympathizes with Andersons for their tragic loss of their son, we will be vigorously defending the Director’s misguided allegations in the proper forum, and we expect that the Director’s biased portrayal in the petition will not stand up to the measured review of the actual facts by the Minnesota Supreme Court during the course of this proceeding,” stated O’Neil.

Anderson’s parents terminated Hopper’s representation in August 2020. They are now suing Hopper in Hennepin County District Court for negligence.

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