STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN SUPREME COURT
Took no part, Blatz, C.J.
In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against
Eric A. L. De Rycke, a Minnesota Attorney,
Registration No. 22299
Filed: January 5, 2006
Office of Appellate Courts
S Y L L A B U S
Disbarment is the appropriate sanction for client neglect, misappropriation of client funds, trust account mismanagement, violating a court order, and noncooperation with the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility in his investigation of these matters after lawyer was disciplined on three prior occasions for similar misconduct.
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
O P I N I O N
In March 2004, the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed a petition for disciplinary action against respondent Eric De Rycke. Because De Rycke failed to respond, the allegations are deemed admitted. The only issue is the appropriate discipline for an attorney who, after having been disciplined three times for similar misconduct, misappropriated client funds, neglected his clients, mismanaged his client trust account, violated a court order, and failed to cooperate with the Director’s investigation of these matters. We conclude that the facts and circumstances of this case warrant disbarment.
The disciplinary petition alleges numerous incidents of misconduct based on five matters. Because De Rycke did not answer the petition, the allegations are deemed admitted. In re Geiger, 621 N.W.2d 16, 17 (Minn. 2001); Rules 12(c) & 13(b), Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR).
A. R.K. Matter
R.K. retained De Rycke in October 2001 on a DWI matter. De Rycke told R.K. he would reschedule R.K.’s court hearing, but he failed to do so. As a result, R.K. did not appear and was charged for failing to appear. The charge was later dropped and the hearing was rescheduled. De Rycke failed to appear at this hearing and did not notify R.K. or the court of his absence. R.K. acted on his own behalf and was able to reschedule the hearing. De Rycke later told R.K. that he missed the hearing because he had car problems, but he did not answer when R.K. asked why he did not call him or notify the court.
B. H.K. Matter
In June 1999, H.K. paid De Rycke $700 to defend him against a DWI charge. Although H.K. understood this to be a nonrefundable flat fee, De Rycke did not provide H.K. with a retainer agreement explaining the nature of the fee. De Rycke initially maintained contact with H.K., but failed to tell H.K. of a plea offer that would have resulted in no jail time until after the offer had expired.
In June 2001, H.K. paid De Rycke $2,000 to hire an expert witness who De Rycke said would testify that H.K.’s blood test was inaccurate. No expert ever testified for H.K., and De Rycke failed to provide the Director with the requested documentation to prove that he actually hired an expert. De Rycke did not refund any of H.K.’s $2,000.
While H.K.’s DWI matter was still pending, De Rycke was suspended from the practice of law for his repeated failure to comply with terms of probation. In re De Rycke (De Rycke III), 644 N.W.2d 797, 801 (Minn. 2002). Rule 26, RLPR, requires that a suspended lawyer “notify each client, opposing counsel * * * and the tribunal involved in pending litigation * * * of the lawyer’s * * * suspension” unless this court orders otherwise. This court’s May 23, 2002, order did not notify De Rycke that he need not comply with Rule 26. See De Rycke III, 644 N.W.2d at 797-801. De Rycke did not inform H.K. of his suspension.
C. T.B. and L.G. Matter
Prior to his suspension, De Rycke was representing T.B. and L.G. in criminal matters. A judge from the Fifth Judicial District notified the Director that De Rycke did not inform T.B., L.G., or the court of his suspension.
D. Trust Account Matter
In January 2002, First Farmer’s & Merchant’s Bank honored two checks drawn on De Rycke’s trust account. The account had insufficient funds to cover these checks, resulting in overdrafts and NSF charges totaling $326.37.
In response to the complaints on each of these matters, the Director wrote De Rycke numerous letters demanding an explanation or response. Several of the letters informed De Rycke that the failure to respond could provide a separate basis for discipline. De Rycke failed to respond to any of the letters. The Director made numerous attempts to contact De Rycke but no one knew of De Rycke’s whereabouts. The Director’s last contact with De Rycke was in the fall of 2001, when De Rycke called to explain his absence at a meeting to discuss these disciplinary matters.
allegations of the petition are deemed admitted, we will address only the
appropriate discipline in this case. In
considering a petition for attorney discipline, this court has the ultimate
responsibility for determining the appropriate sanction. In re Oberhauser, 679 N.W.2d 153, 159
Director urges this court to disbar De Rycke.
He compares De Rycke’s unprofessional behavior to conduct that
warranted disbarment in In re Grzybek,
567 N.W.2d 259, 265 (Minn. 1997).
Grzybek’s violations consisted of repeated neglect of client matters,
failure to follow the disciplinary process less than a year after being
suspended, misappropriation of client funds, and repeated failure to comply
with court orders.
1.3 of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer to “act
with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” The rules also require a lawyer to “keep a
client reasonably informed about the status of a matter.”
Rycke also violated the rules of professional conduct when he misappropriated
$2,000 from his client. See
While the amount of
money here is not as extreme as in some other disbarment cases, see, e.g., In re LaChapelle, 491 N.W.2d 17, 21 (
Rycke also committed misconduct by not cooperating with the Director in the
investigation of these matters. Rule 25,
Finally, we note
that we have previously ordered discipline against De Rycke on three separate
occasions in the past. In 1998, we suspended
him from the practice of law for 90 days for failing to file tax returns,
client neglect, client noncommunication, and noncooperation with the
investigation of these matters. De Rycke
I, 577 N.W.2d at 922. He was
subsequently reinstated, subject to 2 years of supervised probation. In re
De Rycke, 583 N.W.2d 281, 281 (
disciplinary proceeding, this court expects a renewed commitment to
comprehensive ethical and professional behavior, and where leniency has been
shown once, this court is reluctant to do so again.” Grzybek,
567 N.W.2d at 262 (internal citations omitted).
De Rycke has fallen far short of showing a renewed commitment to the
ethical practice of law. First, he
failed to comply with the obligation that arose from his third disciplinary
proceeding to inform his clients, opposing counsel, and the court of his
suspension from the practice of law. See Rule 26, RLPR;
For these reasons, we conclude that De Rycke’s repeated neglect of client matters, misappropriation of client funds, neglect of his clients, mismanagement of his trust account, violation of this court’s order, and failure to cooperate with the Director’s investigation, after three previous disciplinary proceedings, warrant disbarment.
BLATZ, C.J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this matter.