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In the Matter of Morrill (10/6/95), 904 P 2d 395
Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before
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THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
In the Disciplinary Matter )
Involving ) Supreme Court No. S-5779
) ABA File Nos. 1989D178,
LESLIE A. MORRILL, ) 1990D244, 1991D061 &
Respondent. ) O P I N I O N
ABA Membership No. 8211135 )
______________________________) [No. 4268 - October 6, 1995]
Appeal from the Disciplinary Board of the
Alaska Bar Association.
Appearances: Mark Woelber, Assistant Bar
Counsel, Anchorage, for Alaska Bar
Before: Moore, Chief Justice, Rabinowitz,
Matthews, Compton and Eastaugh, Justices.
RABINOWITZ, Justice, dissenting.
At issue is the proper sanction for the misconduct of
Alaska attorney Leslie A. Morrill. In Burrell v. Disciplinary
Board, 777 P.2d 1140, 1143 (Alaska 1989), we summarized the
standard of review in disciplinary cases:
[W]e need not accept the Board's recommend
ation but may exercise our own independent
judgment. Further, although the Board's
findings of fact are entitled to great
weight, this court has "the authority, if not
the obligation, to independently review the
entire record in disciplinary proceedings. .
(Citations omitted) (quoting In re Simpson, 645 P.2d 1223, 1228
(Alaska 1982)). In this case, after completing an independent
review of the record, we conclude that the Disciplinary Board's
recommendation is reasonable. We therefore follow the Board's
recommendation and find that Leslie A. Morrill should be
suspended from the practice of law for one day less than five
RABINOWITZ, Justice, dissenting.
I dissent from the majority's acceptance of the
Disciplinary Board's recommendation that Leslie A. Morrill should
be suspended from the practice of law for one day less than five
years. Study of the record leads me to the conclusion that the
proper sanction for the misconduct of Morrill is that of
disbarment. In short, I would reject the Disciplinary Board's
recommendation and adopt the Hearing Committee's findings and
conclusion recommending disbarment.
In its Decision and Recommendation the Hearing
Considering the Recommended Sanctions
for Ms. Morrill's individual offenses, the
multiple nature of Ms. Morrill's offenses,
all aggravating circumstances, the absence of
proof of any significant mitigating
circumstances (such as personal, emotional or
mental problems), and Ms. Morrill's obvious
intentional disregard for the disciplinary
procedures, the Panel recommends the sanction
of disbarment for Ms. Morrill.
Decision and Recommendation.2 Review of the "MacDonald"
grievance, along with the record pertaining to the two additional
grievances proven against Morrill, demonstrates that disbarment
is the appropriate sanction.
Concerning the MacDonald grievance, the record
indicates that United States Bankruptcy Judge Donald MacDonald IV
filed a grievance against Morrill. He alleged, in part, that
Morrill appeared in his court on behalf of the Azuma Corporation,
a corporate debtor seeking reorganization under Chapter 11 at a
time when Morrill was suspended from the practice of law by the
Alaska Bar Association for non-payment of dues.
The Hearing Committee found that Morrill violated DR 1-
102(A)(1), (2), (4), and (6), as well as DR 3-101(B) and DR 7-
101(A)(3). More specifically, the Committee found that by
practicing law while suspended and using "Legal Management
Services" to circumvent her suspension, Morrill disregarded court
rules and regulations of the Alaska Bar Association and engaged
in "active dishonesty and misrepresentation." The Committee also
By appearing as legal counsel on behalf of
Azuma while legally unqualified to do so, Ms.
Morrill injured her client -- according to
Judge MacDonald, Azuma's petition was
dismissed as a result of Ms. Morrill's
As to Morrill's mental state, the Hearing Committee
found that her practice of law while suspended was both
intentional and knowing, but that her conduct causing injury to
Azuma was merely negligent.3 Concerning the extent of the actual
or potential injury caused by Morrill's misconduct, the Hearing
Committee found that Azuma's Chapter 11 Bankruptcy petition was
dismissed and that the "dismissal of a client's bankruptcy
petition is a serious injury." Similarly, the Hearing Committee
stated that "Judge MacDonald alleges that Azuma may have been
able to successfully reorganize its financial affairs but for Ms.
Morrill's conduct." The Hearing Committee additionally concluded
that "regardless of whether Azuma eventually refiled a bankruptcy
petition, the potential injury Ms. Morrill caused to Azuma was
serious." (Emphasis in original.)
As for Morrill's deceptive conduct toward the
bankruptcy court, the Hearing Committee concluded that Discipline
Standard 6.11 was the applicable standard to apply in fashioning
an appropriate sanction. This standard states:
Disbarment is generally appropriate when a
lawyer, with the intent to deceive the Court,
makes a false statement, submits a false
document, or improperly withholds material
information and causes serious or potentially
serious injury to a party, or causes
significant or potentially significant
adverse effect on the legal proceeding.
In determining that the recommended sanction for Morrill should
be disbarment the Hearing Committee entered the following
findings of fact:
In filing Azuma's petition and appearing in
Judge MacDonald's Court on behalf of Azuma,
Ms. Morrill acted with "the intent to deceive
the Court" by "making a false statement" and
"withholding material information" regarding
her suspended status with the ABA.
Ms. Morrill's wrongdoing is not
mitigated by her later admissions to Judge
MacDonald -- it was only in response to Judge
MacDonald's inquiry that Ms. Morrill provided
truthful information regarding her suspension
and use of Legal Management Services to
circumvent her suspension. The ethics rules
require a lawyer to be candid and truthful
even in the absence of an inquiry by the
Court, and there is every indication to this
Panel that, but for Judge MacDonald's
inquiry, Ms. Morrill would have continued her
intentional misrepresentation. The Panel
believes that Ms. Morrill's conduct with
respect to practicing law while suspended and
attempting to circumvent her suspension
through deception, absent mitigating
circumstances, warrant[s] the sanction of
Upon a combined consideration of the
cumulative aspects of the MacDonald Grievance
(both Ms. Morrill's deception and the injury
to Azuma), the Panel believes that, absent
mitigating circumstances (discussed below),
the recommended sanction for Ms. Morrill is
Decision and Recommendation.4
On the basis of the above findings and conclusion, I am
persuaded that the Hearing Committee's recommendation is more
appropriate than that of the Disciplinary Board. I would
therefore hold that Leslie A. Morrill should be disbarred from
the practice of law.
1 The most serious charge against Morrill is the
MacDonald grievance. While Morrill was suspended from the
practice of law for nonpayment of dues she filed a bankruptcy
petition on behalf of a client through a corporation she owned,
Legal Management Services. When questioned by Bankruptcy Judge
MacDonald, she admitted that she had formed Legal Management
Services in order to circumvent her suspension. As a result of
her conduct, her client's bankruptcy petition was dismissed. The
record does not reveal whether the petition was dismissed with
prejudice. Although Morrill's conduct in the MacDonald matter
fell seriously short of the duty of candor which she owed the
bankruptcy court, she did not lie to the court. We do not
believe that this conduct, considering both its nature and its
consequences, necessarily requires disbarment.
Bar counsel argues that Morrill's conduct taken as a
whole is at least as bad as that involved in In re Crone, Supreme
Court No. S-6197 (April 1, 1994), in which we entered an order of
disbarment. Crone, however, involved the misappropriation of
client funds and is distinguishable from the present case on that
2 The Hearing Committee found that Morrill violated
Disciplinary Rules 1-102(A)(1), (2), (4) and (6); 3-101(B);
6-101(A)(2) and (3); 7-101(A)(1), (2) and (3); and Alaska Bar
3 The Hearing Committee's findings regarding Morrill's
mental state include the following:
[S]he appeared in his Court while suspended --
and the fact that she appeared in Court in
the corporate capacity of Legal Management
Services for the admitted purpose of "getting
around" her suspension -- Ms. Morrill acted
with intentional and knowing disregard for
the rules of the Court and the rules of the
ABA (Ms. Morrill acted with "the conscious
objective or purpose to accomplish a
While Ms. Morrill obviously intended to
violate the rules of the court and profession
by practicing law at a time when she was
suspended, it is not apparent that she
intended to injure Azuma through her conduct.
Ms. Morrill did, however, knowingly withhold
material information from her client --
namely her suspended status with the ABA --
and caused injury to her client as a result.
Judge MacDonald's comments reflect that Ms.
Morrill acted on behalf of Azuma in a
misguided attempt to "help out a friend."
Ms. Morrill's conduct was obviously knowing
to the extent that she withheld information
from Azuma, and was negligent to the extent
of her appearance in Court on Azuma's behalf.
Any reasonably competent attorney would have
recognized that, based upon Ms. Morrill's
suspended status, her appearance for Azuma
created an unreasonable risk of harm to
4 In concluding that disbarment should be its recommended
sanction, the Hearing Committee analyzed the factor of
aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the following manner:
The Standards do not state
recommendations regarding the appropriate
sanction for multiple charges of misconduct.
The Standards do provide, however, that where
there are multiple violations, the ultimate
sanction imposed should be consistent with
the sanction for the most serious instance of
misconduct and that the sanction might well
be, and generally should be, greater than the
sanction for the most serious offense.
The sanctions recommended with respect
to these violations, taken individually, are
suspension and disbarment. Viewed
cumulatively and in light of the Discipline
Standards' statement regarding the
appropriate sanction in instances of multiple
violations, the Panel believes that the
recommended sanction for Ms. Morrill's
multiple offenses [including Ms. Morrill's
misconduct in the discipline procedure
(deception and intentional avoidance of
service) and failure to respond to the
grievances] is disbarment.
The only mitigating circumstance that
the panel can identify in this case is Ms.
Morrill's lack of a prior disciplinary
record. This mitigating circumstance,
however, is significantly outweighed by Ms.
Morrill's present multiple offense
[representing a pattern of misconduct], Ms.
Morrill's deceptive practices during the
disciplinary process, and her refusal to
answer for her misconduct by responding to
the grievances (and actually intentionally
attempting to elude service).