So what is next for Paul Hansmeier? (For some reason, I really don’t care about John Steele anymore. Perhaps someone else can take up the role of following Steele’s path toward being in the custody of the Attorney General.) There is the criminal investigation, a couple more sanction cases making their way through the courts, and of course his bankruptcy proceeding. However, next on deck is likely his attorney disciplinary hearing in Minnesota.
The Minnesota case is currently being reviewed by a referee (a retired judge) appointed by the MN Supreme Court. His report is due before 29 July 2016. Since a Fifth Count was added to the complaint, the referee will likely take all the allowed time, or might even request an extension. After that, there are a number of additional steps and hearings before a final decision is reached by the MN Supreme Court. So you might think the whole thing will be on the back-burner for another year or two. If so, keep reading.
If the referee recommends disbarment — as the Office of Lawyer’s Professional Responsibility (OLPR) requested — his license is suspended immediately. So even though it may be another year before he is officially disbarred, his license could be gone (effectively for good) in the next month or two. Now either the referee or the MN Supreme Court could cancel the automatic suspension while the decision is pending. I have checked a number of cases where MN lawyers have been disbarred, but that information was not readily available. So I can’t say for certain that there is not a practice of automatically granting stays on the suspension, but according to the regulations, if the referee recommends disbarment, the license is normally immediately suspended.
So what happens when his license is suspended? Or if it works its way through and the MN Supreme Court officially disbars him? The real effect will be on his new racket of filing ADA suits. Upon suspension (or disbarment) an attorney must notify his clients, the other party’s attorneys and the courts within 10 days. Then he must make arrangements for his clients to receive their “case files.”
As anyone who has followed this saga for a while knows the relationship between “Prenda” and their clients has been, shall we say, interesting. There is no reason to think that the relationship between Hansmeier and his clients in the ADA cases is any different. if he is suspended, his client would be free to select any other licensed attorney to continue these cases. Wouldn’t that be a slap in the face, if after all this work, another attorney steps in and reaps all the benefits (i.e., money)? Or, if the relationship is how we suspect that it is, there may be another attorney who is ready and willing to step in and take over these cases. Hmmm, I wonder who that might be?
(Let me introduce another general legal principle: Anyone can represent themselves “pro se”, even if they are a disbarred attorney. However, only a validly licensed attorney can represent another person — or a corporation. Remember all Hansmeier’s work to set up all those intertwined corporations? If he is disbarred (or suspended), he cannot represent them, even if he is the sole owner. So, as usually happens, that may come back and bite him in a big way.)
If an attorney is suspended, in Minnesota, he can still do legal-type work, as long as it is basically “behind the scenes” stuff, and is under the supervision of another MN licensed attorney. If the suspended/disbarred attorney over-steps here, both are liable for even more discipline. To keep an eye on this, any such arrangement must be reported to the OLPR. So back to my earlier question, who might be a licensed MN lawyer who could take over those ADA cases and keep everything “in house?” Padraigin Browne, of course.
So she takes over as attorney, and he provides the background work, under “her supervision,” of course. In a number of states, it is not permitted for a suspended lawyer to work for his former firm, with former colleagues, or for family members since it is felt that they would not exercise true supervision. In MN, there is no such rule. However, the OLPR would likely keep a very close watch on such an arrangement.
In summary, there is a good chance (it is by no means certain) that Hansmeier’s law license may disappear for good in July. If it does, then his ADA “clients” become essentially free agents. Do any of the old-timers remember the story of Eric Dickerson driving the Corvette provided by Texas A&M boosters to school at SMU? if he is suspended, his work on the ADA cases will suddenly become much more visible to both other attorneys and the courts and who knows where that will lead. If Browne takes over, I am certain OLPR will keep an incredibly close watch on both of them, and Hansmeier has traditionally not done well in such situations.
So what will happen first? The administrative suspension of his law license upon the recommendation of the referee for disbarment? Or an indictment? The dark-horse candidate would be his bankruptcy being dismissed.
¹ [SJD] This opinion was initially posted as a comment. In my view, this commentary deserved a greater exposure, so I made a blog post out of it with author’s consent.