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State ex rel. Counsel for Discipline of Nebraska Supreme Court v. Halstead

Supreme Court of Nebraska

November 3, 2017

State of Nebraska ex rel. Counsel for Discipline of the Nebraska Supreme Court, relator,
v.
Rodney A. Halstead, respondent.

         1. Disciplinary Proceedings: Appeal and Error. Because attorney discipline cases are original proceedings before the Nebraska Supreme Court, the court reviews a referee's recommendations de novo on the record, reaching a conclusion independent of the referee's findings.

         2. Disciplinary Proceedings. To determine whether and to what extent discipline should be imposed in a lawyer discipline proceeding, the Nebraska Supreme Court considers the following factors: (1) the nature of the offense, (2) the need for deterring others, (3) the maintenance of the reputation of the bar as a whole, (4) the protection of the public, (5) the attitude of the offender generally, and (6) the offender's present or future fitness to continue in the practice of law.

         3. ___. The propriety of a sanction must be considered with reference to the sanctions imposed in prior similar cases.

         4. ___. Cumulative acts of attorney misconduct are distinguishable from isolated incidents, therefore justifying more serious sanctions.

         Original action. Judgment of suspension.

          Julie L. Agena, Assistant Counsel for Discipline, for relator.

          Thomas J. Anderson, PC, L.L.O., for respondent.

          Heavican, C.J., Wright, Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Kelch, and Funke, JJ.

         [298 Neb. 150]PER CURIAM.

         INTRODUCTION

         This is an attorney discipline case in which the only question before this court is the appropriate sanction. Rodney A. Halstead admitted to authoring and filing annual guardianship reports containing false statements over a period of 6 years. The referee recommended that Halstead be suspended from the practice of law for 1 year with other conditions set forth in more detail below. Because this is a serious offense which was repeated year after year, we adopt the referee's recommendation and enter a judgment of suspension.

         BACKGROUND

         Halstead was admitted to the practice of law in the State of Nebraska on September 25, 1991. At all relevant times, he was engaged in the practice of law in Omaha, Nebraska.

         Grounds for Attorney Discipline

         In August 2009, Halstead was appointed permanent guardian of an incapacitated adult (the ward). He was required to file annual reports on the condition of the ward and, among other items, list the ward's current address and indicate how many times and on what dates he saw the ward in the past year.[1]Halstead filed these mandatory reports with the county court for 6 consecutive years, 2010 through 2015.

         However, each report contained information which Halstead knew to be false. In annual reports filed in 2010 and 2011, Halstead handwrote virtually identical responses: "I have seen [the ward] about once a month [and] check via phone more often." Then, in 2012, his typical response changed and he handwrote, "I have been kept updated mostly by telephone." Halstead handwrote this same response in his 2013 and 2014 report. Finally, in his 2015 report, Halstead replied in shorthand and handwrote, "updated by telephone." In fact, Halstead had not visited the ward or spoken to anyone at the ward's [298 Neb. 151] assisted living facility since 2009. If he had, he would have learned that the ward had moved out of the assisted living facility in 2011. ...


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