There is an interesting decision out of the North Dakota Supreme Court this week after it suspended a lawyer as a precautionary act following his indictment. Henry Howe has only been charged and has been released on bond, but the Court still suspended him in an emergency action. The action raises concern over the presumption of innocence and the ability of prosecutors to effectively halt a lawyer’s practice (and earnings) with an indictment. On the other hand, the Court viewed the evidence as sufficiently strong that it had to act to protect clients pending the outcome of the case. That case however could take a year or more.
Howe has practiced for 40 years in Grand Forks as a criminal defense attorney. He is now charged with conspiring with two convicted drug felons and a fourth man (who was working as an undercover informant) to kill a key witness in a drug cartel case. That witness is also reportedly a confidential informant. The hit was allegedly to benefit Paul Lysengen, who is Howe’s client.
If convicted of the Class AA felony, Howe could go to jail for life without parole.
This is clearly a tough call. This attorney is accused of trying to kill a witness — a danger to both witnesses and the legal system. The Court however said that it had reviewed the evidence and found that “sufficient information exists that Howe poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public because of the facts attested in the affidavit evidence a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice by murdering a witness.” Presumably Howe did not participate in that review however or had an opportunity to present a counterargument since he was in jail and yet to secure counsel.
Even without that participation, the Court concluded Howe violated state rules of professional conduct for attorneys by “failing to disclose information reasonably necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm,” by obstructing another’s access to evidence, by committing a criminal act “that adversely reflects on Howe’s fitness as a lawyer,” and “by engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” I can understand the view that a suspension was needed but I am troubled by the full extent of the findings without more information on the involvement of Howe in his own defense.
This is not the first problem for Howe with his license. He has been struggling to keep his license over a prior charge and has been sued by a Mexican couple over malpractice in an immigration case that they say cost them hundreds of thousands. Howe was just before the Court in briefings on this case in January. That problem likely looks a bit remote today in light of the indictment.
Source: ABA Journal