A Nebraska county attorney who prepared legal documents for his girlfriend relating to her firing from a job at the county sheriff’s office without initially indicating his involvement in the case was publicly reprimanded by the state’s highest court.
The case was the first in which Nebraska’s Supreme Court had to rule on a violation of a local rule requiring a “Prepared By” notation on court filings worked on by an attorney, so it had “no comparative cases” to help determine a sanction, it said in its April 17 opinion.
Brandon B. Hanson was working as county attorney for Valley County in 2018 when his girlfriend was fired from her job. Soon after, she filed a suit against someone who commented on social media that she was dismissed for being drunk at work.
The comment came from a supporter of Hanson’s rival for the county attorney seat.
Hanson’s rival filed a grievance with the state disciplinary board alleging that Hanson had prepared pleadings for his girlfriend without including the required notation. His involvement in her case was also a conflict of interest with his position as the Valley County Attorney, the rival said.
The referee overseeing the case recommended that Hanson get a six-month suspension because Hanson had abused his public office to help his girlfriend and “the need to deter others is great.”
The state’s high court found that Hanson violated the state “scope of representation” ethics rule, which includes a provision requiring the “Prepared By” notation. And even though Valley County wasn’t a party to the lawsuit, “a concurrent conflict of interest existed because the issues involved focused on the reasons for” his girlfriend’s termination from the local sheriff’s office, it said.
The Valley County sheriff was deposed during the litigation, and outside counsel had been appointed, the court noted.
But Hanson did add the notation in the amended complaint after he learned of his mistake, and stopped providing legal assistance to his girlfriend, the court said.
Mitigating factors include that he has no prior disciplinary complaints; he was cooperative throughout the disciplinary proceedings; he accepted responsibility for his actions; and there was no evidence of harm, it said.
And there are no aggravating factors, the court added.
As for Hanson’s sanction, the court said that in cases involving conflicts of interest and no other violations, it “generally imposed just a public reprimand.”
But this is a case of first impression because are no comparative cases involving the failure to include a “Prepared By” notation, it said.
It decided on a public reprimand because of all the mitigating factors, the lack of aggravating factors, the short period of time during which the violations occurred, and the “unique nature” of the case.
The case is State ex rel. Counsel for Discipline of the Neb. Supreme Court v. Hanson, 2020 BL 143534, Neb., No. S-19-355, 4/17/20.