A Minnesota attorney with “significant disciplinary history” received a stayed disbarment from the state’s highest court for trust account and advertising rule violations.
“Stayed discipline is unusual but this is an unusual case,” the Minnesota Supreme Court said in its Feb. 19 decision, explaining that lawyer Daniel Martin Lieber’s personal stress amounted to “substantial mitigation” that influenced its ruling.
A court-appointed referee concluded—and the Minneapolis attorney admitted—that he’d violated Minnesota professional conduct rules by commingling his own money with that in a client trust account and failed to accurately maintain his trust account books and records, the high court said. That mismanagement, which occurred between 2015 and 2018, at times left the account nearly $6,000 short of funds.
Lieber was admonished in 2002 and disbarred several years later for trust account violations—conduct similar to the misconduct he committed in this case, the court said. Some of the later violations occurred during his period of probation after being reinstated and violated the terms of his reinstatement, the court said.
Lieber also sent an unsolicited postcard to a woman who’d been in an accident, referencing the accident and seeking her as a client, the court said. The card didn’t “clearly and conspicuously” display the words “Advertising Material,” in violation of attorney advertising rules, it said.
While the referee recommended the attorney be suspended for a minimum of 18 months, the high court disagreed
Lieber’s misconduct is “serious,” the court said. It occurred over the course of 34 months and he violated several rules of professional conduct multiple times. However, it noted, he didn’t directly harm any of his clients.
But his disciplinary history is an aggravating factor. “Not only has Lieber previously received the most serious discipline possible—disbarment—he also, while still on probation, committed some of the same misconduct that led to his disbarment,” the court said.
Still, it differed with the referee about the weight Lieber’s emotional stress should carry. The correct inquiry, it said, is whether the extreme stress affected Lieber, which it did. During the relevant time, his daughter was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, his mother was diagnosed with dementia, his father was diagnosed with cancer, and his father-in-law died after being diagnosed with cancer.
“Accordingly, we weigh Lieber’s extreme stress as a substantial mitigating factor,” the court said.
If Lieber had minimal disciplinary history, he’d likely receive a public reprimand and probation for similar trust account related misconduct, it acknowledged. But his disciplinary history “is extraordinary, in the worst sense” and warrants disbarment. But a stayed disbarment is appropriate in this case and will “adequately protect the public and the legal profession and operate to deter future misconduct,” it said.
It warned that if it found out of any additional misconduct on Lieber’s part, he’d disbarred without the opportunity to apply for reinstatement.
The case is In re Lieber, 2020 BL 58449, Minn., No. A19-0048, 2/19/20.