GRAND FORKS -- The controversial Grand Forks lawyer Henry Howe, who at one time faced charges of conspiracy to murder a witness and bungled an immigration case, may have his law license back, but with restrictions and a reprimand.
The North Dakota Supreme Court reinstated Howe, a longtime criminal defense attorney in Grand Forks, at the recommendation of the Disciplinary Board Thursday, but ordered that he comply with several conditions, including monitoring of his law firm's accounting and management practices.
Howe's law license was ordered suspended in March 2014 after Supreme Court justices found Howe had bungled an immigration case by, for example, failing to notify his clients of important court dates, failing to file court papers in a timely manner and failing to produce information that would have bolstered his clients' case.
At the time, Howe was already under suspension because of pending criminal charges alleging he was involved in a conspiracy to murder a witness against one of his clients in a different case, charges that were later downgraded and eventually dropped.
Howe asked the Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board to reinstate his license in February, and in March a panel of three Disciplinary Board members held a hearing to assess whether Howe was fit to practice law and whether he had complied with conditions the Supreme Court had required of him at suspension.
The three-member panel ultimately decided Howe is fit to practice law, according to the opinion published Thursday, and recommended the Supreme Court reinstate him. But the panel also noted Howe had not complied fully with the conditions from his disciplinary proceedings last year.
But the panel reasoned Howe was in distress at the time because of the pending criminal charges and Howe's license could be reinstated with conditions.
"The hearing panel concluded Howe should be conditionally reinstated to allow him time to comply in light of the extraordinary events unfolding at that time," wrote four of the five Supreme Court justices, referring to the pending charges Howe was dealing with. The fifth justice, Carol Ronning Kapsner, was disqualified from the decision, though the opinion did not state why.
The conditions mostly revolve around Howe's management skills, which the three panelists were concerned about because Howe could not produce certain timekeeping and billing records at his hearing in March.
Among the conditions, Howe must undergo an evaluation and follow an individualized plan--which could include mentoring in office management skills, the opinion says.
He also must continue to pay $325 per month toward costs and expenses from prior disciplinary proceedings, the opinion says. Howe is no longer allowed to take immigration cases.
The Supreme Court also ordered that a monitor be assigned to Howe to ensure he follows proper timekeeping, billing, accounting and calendaring procedures, according to the opinion.
Howe and the monitor will have to report back to Brent Edison, the lawyer for the Disciplinary Board, to ensure Howe follows through, the opinion says. If Edison finds Howe fails to comply with the conditions or if there may be a harm to the public, Edison must notify the Supreme Court, which could place Howe under suspension again.
The Supreme Court also reprimanded Howe for breaking lawyers' rules of professional conduct when he posted a notice on his law firm door after criminal charges were levelled against him last year, saying he was the target of a "witch hunt" orchestrated by a judge, the prosecutor and drug task force agents.
Under their rules of professional conduct, lawyers are not allowed to make false statements about a judge's integrity.
Howe was also ordered to pay $5,275 for the disciplinary proceedings regarding reinstatement of his license.
The clients Howe represented in the immigration case brought a malpractice suit against him in Grand Forks District Court in January 2014, alleging Howe owes them tens of thousands of dollars in damages, including legal expenses to appeal the Board of Immigration Appeals, emotional and psychological distress, and loss of educational and other opportunities.
The case is scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 24.