Each year in early July the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) and the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (LPRB) publish an annual report summarizing the Year in Discipline, as it were. Not the type of reading typically picked up by anyone other than ethics wonks and insomniacs, but here are some of the highlights:
- Budget surplus growing. Yes, you read that correctly. The Office has a reserve of $2.7 million, almost equal to its entire annual budget, which is projected to grow by roughly $100,000 a year. Although OLPR is funded almost entirely by the registration fees lawyers pay each year ($122 of the current annual fee), they have been subject to the same salary freeze as the rest of the judicial branch for the past two years and will continue to be frozen for at least the next two years. Water, water everywhere . . .
- Complaints and inventory growing. The number of new complaints was up during the first five months of this year; if it holds it would reach an annual pace of 1,400 complaints, about a 10% to 15% increase over the past few years but about the same as the Office had in the mid-90s. More troubling is that the number of open files was up to 638, possibly its highest in two decades. The target is only 500, which the Office hasn’t seen for about seven years. The number of files open longer than a year is holding at around 140, above the goal of 100. The Office should be able to handle the increase given that it has added a full-time attorney position and a full-time paralegal position in the past year. Clearly they are feeling the pressure to get the caseload down: the annual report announced a three-month “moratorium” on staff presentations of CLEs and writing articles for Minnesota Lawyer.
- Trusteeships growing. The Office seems to be swamped with trusteeships over the files of lawyers who have died with no one to wrap up their practices and the aftermath of the demise of Centro Legal, which left behind hundreds of client files. The Office has had to rent additional storage and office space; some of the drain on staff resources may account for the growing number of open files.
- Discipline levels stable. For all the increase in complaint volume, about the same number of attorneys received public discipline last year (38) as in prior years. Private discipline was also pretty constant, running at about 115 private admonitions and 35 private probations. Although the number of reported trust account overdrafts has dropped about 10% from historical levels, each year about a dozen lawyers have overdraft inquiries converted into disciplinary files, usually because of shortages resulting from poor bookkeeping or inattention, or because the financially-strapped lawyer, although perhaps not stealing any money, used the trust account in lieu of a separate checking account.