North Dakota Supreme Court Suspends License Of Criminal Defense Lawyer Accused In Conspiracy To Kill Witness

mugshotsThere 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

16 thoughts on “North Dakota Supreme Court Suspends License Of Criminal Defense Lawyer Accused In Conspiracy To Kill Witness”

  1. North Dakota Supreme Court suspends license of this Attorny. if attorney is charged with a felony….. The licenses is automatically suspended…on the involvement of Howe in his own defense.

  2. The evidence better be good. The prosecutor may have immunity from civil suit due to the defense or immunity of prosecutorial immunity, but he can be prosecuted or disbarred for fudging truth.

  3. He bonded out with 10k on a 100k bond Darren….

    It’s my understanding that once an attorney is charged with a felony….. The licenses is automatically suspended…. Generally unless exigent circumstances exist they will let them finish a trial they are in the middle of and then arrest immediately after…..

    Here’s the article today…

  4. The tip of the iceberg “Criminal Lawyers” are in reality. As with Nixon, the question is not is he guilty of something but rather are any of them innocent of anything???

  5. Hit post too soon.

    … and the suspension of his law license might be done for similar circumstances.

  6. I can see this as a tough call, but one of the reasons he is incarcerated might be due to the threat perceived or flight risk on the accusation of a serious felony.

  7. Too many want to hand out free passes for lawyers, politicians, doctors, etc. On the other hand, this is the same court that upheld an illegal firing in a Grand Forks school system, in my opinion, were a female-dominated administration did not like a male teacher. Today, men never have the benefit of the same latitude that women receive.

  8. If I recall The model rules of professional responsibility call for the immediate suspension of anyone charged with a felony….. I hope this is not just prosecutor abuse… drug cases they generally take greater latitude… disassembling the defense anyway they can……

  9. I can understand the court’s concern, but if the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota can’t protect the presumption of innocence in North Dakota, who can?

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