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Disciplinary Board v. Becker

504 N.W.2d 303 (1993)

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Disciplinary Board v. Becker

North Dakota Supreme Court

504 N.W.2d 303 (1993)

Facts

Donald Becker (defendant) was a North Dakota attorney who had been disbarred in Arizona. Becker was forthcoming to the North Dakota bar about the Arizona disbarment and had no other disciplinary issues. Becker represented Dennis Mees in matters including fraud. The police arrested Mees, confiscated Mees’s jewelry, and shipped the jewelry to Becker. Becker had the jewelry appraised. The appraised retail value was $5,500, and the appraised fair market value was $2,250. Becker left the jewelry in the console of his car, and the jewelry was stolen. Mees and Becker decided that Becker would compensate Mees with legal work. According to Becker, Mees later agreed that Becker’s work had exceeded the value of the jewelry. Becker sent Mees an itemized statement for about $6,400. Mees then accused Becker of stealing the jewelry and filed a disciplinary complaint. A panel of the Disciplinary Board (the board) (plaintiff) held a hearing on Becker’s violation of the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct, which require a lawyer to safeguard a client’s property. Becker presented his appraisal of $5,500, and Mees offered an appraisal of $8,840. Mees’s appraisal was not credible because the appraiser had never seen the jewelry and had given blank letterhead to Mees so Mees could create appraisals for himself. The board found that Becker’s fee was reasonable but that the value of the property could not be appraised because of Becker’s negligence and held that Becker’s negligence reflected badly on the legal profession. The panel found that Becker’s Arizona disbarment was an aggravating factor, concluded that Becker’s negligence caused injury or potential injury to Mees, and recommended a public reprimand and that Becker pay costs. The board adopted the panel’s recommendation and submitted the recommendation to the North Dakota Supreme Court, where Becker argued that because the jewelry was worth less than the value of the legal services, Mees did not suffer a loss or potential loss, so private reprimand was appropriate.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Meschke, J.)

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