United States District Court, D. Nebraska
TIMOTHY L. ASHFORD, PC LLO, and TIMOTHY L. ASHFORD, Plaintiffs,
OFFICE FOR COUNSEL FOR DISCIPLINE, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. Gerrard Chief United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on its own review of the complaint
filed by Timothy Ashford and his law office (collectively,
Ashford), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief with
respect to attorney disciplinary proceedings Ashford alleges
have been undertaken by the Nebraska Supreme Court's
Counsel for Discipline. Filing 1. The Court finds that such
relief is barred by the doctrine of Younger v.
Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) and its progeny, and will
dismiss Ashford's complaint.
summarized, Ashford claims that the Counsel for Discipline
has initiated a disciplinary inquiry based on a complaint he
says "was filed anonymously by the Douglas County Court
on October 3, 2016," allegedly in retaliation for a suit
he filed against Douglas County and the judges of that court,
among others. Filing 1 at 5-6; see Ashford v.
Douglas Cty., 880 F.3d 990 (8th Cir. 2018). Ashford
further alleges that a separate disciplinary inquiry has been
initiated based on a client complaint that Ashford says is
false. Filing 1 at 9-11. Ashford argues Counsel for
Discipline is required to recuse himself, and accuses the
Office of the Counsel for Discipline of discriminating
against him on the basis of race. Filing 1 at 11-12,
21-24. So, Ashford prays for injunction of the
disciplinary proceedings, a declaration that Counsel for
Discipline cannot "act as a prosecutor and serve as a
judge in a preliminary inquiry or a hearing," an order
for additional notice regarding the charges against him, and
for costs and attorney's fees. Filing 1 at 41-42.
Younger and its progeny "espouse a strong
federal policy against federal-court interference with
pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary
circumstances." Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v.
Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982).
And "[t]he policies underlying Younger are fully
applicable to noncriminal judicial proceedings when important
state interests are involved." Id. at 432. The
importance of the state interest may be demonstrated by the
fact that the noncriminal proceedings bear a close
relationship to proceedings criminal in nature, and
proceedings necessary for the vindication of important state
policies or for the functioning of the state judicial system
also evidence the state's substantial interest in the
litigation. Id. So, where vital state interests are
involved, a federal court should abstain unless state law
clearly bars the interposition of the constitutional claims.
Id. The pertinent inquiry is whether the state
proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise the
constitutional claims. Id.
Supreme Court has expressly held that attorney disciplinary
proceedings are ongoing state judicial proceedings.
Id. at 432-33. So, the Court has explained, the
importance of the state's interest in such proceedings
calls Younger abstention into play, and as
"long as the constitutional claims of respondents can be
determined in the state proceedings and so long as there is
no showing of bad faith, harassment, or some other
extraordinary circumstance that would make abstention
inappropriate, the federal courts should abstain."
Id. at 435.
there is no reason to believe that Ashford's
constitutional arguments cannot be presented in the state
court proceeding. "Minimal respect for the state
processes, of course, precludes any presumption that
the state courts will not safeguard federal constitutional
rights." Id. at 431. So, it's not
surprising that the overwhelming weight of authority demands
Younger abstention in these circumstances. See
id.; Gillette v. N. Dakota Disciplinary Bd.
Counsel, 610 F.3d 1045, 1049 (8th Cir. 2010);
Plouffe v. Ligon, 606 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir. 2010);
Norwood v. Dickey, 409 F.3d 901, 904 (8th Cir.
2005); Neal v. Wilson, 112 F.3d 351, 357 (8th Cir.
1997); Dir. of Lawyers Prof'l Responsibility Bd. of
State of Minn. v. Perl, 752 F.2d 352, 353 (8th Cir.
1985). To the extent that Ashford's claims of
discrimination suggest Counsel for Discipline has acted in
bad faith-that, too, can be raised with the Nebraska Supreme
Court. See Gillette, 610 F.3d at 1049;
see also Neal, 112 F.3d at 357. Nor is
there any credible basis to argue that any of the rules
challenged by Ashford are so "patently
unconstitutional" as to warrant an exception to
Younger. See Plouffe, 606 F.3d at 894.
the Court concludes that Younger abstention is
appropriate, and will dismiss this case.
plaintiffs' complaint is dismissed.
separate judgment will be entered.
 Although the defendants have not
answered the complaint, the Younger issue is evident, as is
the potential for the pendency of this case to interfere with
state-court proceedings-so, the Court considers abstention
sua sponte. See Robinson v. City of Omaha, 866 F.2d
1042, 1043 (8th Cir. 1989) (holding that abstention doctrines
in general may be raised sua sponte); see also Geier v.
Missouri Ethics Comm'n, 715 F.3d 674, 676 (8th Cir.
2013) (affirming dismissal where the district court abstained
sua sponte under the Younger doctrine).
 The Court notes that Ashford's
complaint also suggests that he sued Counsel for Discipline
first in state court, and that this federal lawsuit was
initiated only a few days after-and presumably because-his
state-court case was assigned to a Douglas County judge.
Filing 1 at 31-32. In other words, abstention in this
declaratory action is appropriate not only under Younger, but
at least in part under Wilton v. Seven Falls Co.,515 U.S. 277 (1995). See Lexington Ins. Co. v. Integrity
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