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In re Charges of Unprofessional Conduct Contained in Panel Case No. 15976

Minnesota Supreme Court
653 N.W.2d 452 (2002)


Facts

An attorney (defendant) was representing in a personal injury lawsuit a client who had been seriously and permanently injured by a bus. Prior to the injury, the client had only worked unskilled physical labor jobs, and asserted that he lacked the education or intelligence to find other types of work. The client claimed that his permanent injuries would therefore prevent him from working in the future and sought damages. The case came before Judge Franklin Knoll (plaintiff). Judge Knoll had a law clerk who was severely disabled. The clerk worked in the court, and in front of the jury, although in a wheelchair on a respirator with a full-time attendant. The client became concerned that the jury would compare his injuries to the clerk’s more serious disability and thereby question his claimed inability to work in the future, and that he could not receive a fair trial with the clerk’s presence. The attorney filed a motion on this rationale, asking for a mistrial and another panel of jurors without the clerk present, or that the case be assigned to another judge. Judge Knoll denied the motion. The jury found in favor of the opposing party. The attorney filed a motion for a new trial, using the clerk’s presence as one basis for the motion, with no legal authority as support. Judge Knoll brought a disciplinary complaint against the attorney for discriminatory conduct. The disciplinary panel held that the attorney’s conduct was non-serious but warranted some discipline and issued the attorney an admonition.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)

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