Committee of Professional Ethics v. Baker
492 N.W.2d 695 (1992)
- Voegtlin was a financial planner who encouraged people to form inter vivos trusts instead of using wills and the probate system. Miller was a lawyer who worked for a bank and assisted Voegtlin in running estate planning seminars.
- Voegtlin and Miller went to another lawyer, Baker, and asked if they could refer people interested in creating inter vivos trusts to him.
- At the seminars, Voegtlin and Miller would explain the different kinds of trusts available to people, and then collect their information and hold one-on-one consultations. If the clients were interested, and had no personal attorney, Voegtlin and Miller would send them to Baker.
- Baker and Voegtlin would draw up the trust documents for a fee.
- The Commission on the Unauthorized Practice of Law met with Miller and others to determine who exactly was preparing the trust documents.
- There were accusations that Voegtlin was the one who prepared all the documents and that Baker was brought in only at the very end.
- Since Voegtlin was not an attorney, he might be guilty of the unauthorized practice of law. Baker’s actions could be construed as assisting Voegtlin’s crime.
- They also inquired about some misleading statements Voegtlin and Miller were making during their seminars.
- Baker was worried about the legality of the situation, so he inquired with the Committee of Professional Ethics. They refused to give an opinion, and instead opened an investigation.
- The Committee of Professional Ethics filed a complaint against Baker alleging that Baker was assisting Voegtlin in the unauthorized practice of law, that he was allowing Voegtlin to influence his professional judgment, and that he was accepting improper referrals.
- Out of the 100+ clients that Voegtlin sent him, Baker did not counsel a single one that a trust was not in their best interest.
- The Grievance Commission found that Baker had violated ethics laws and issued a reprimand.
- The Grievance Commission found that Voegtlin was involved in the unauthorized practice of law.
- It was Voegtlin who made all the decisions, gave all the advice, and filled out all the paperwork.
- The Grievance Commission found Baker guilty of aiding Voegtlin in the unauthorized practice of law (Rule 5.5)
- It was Voegtlin’s judgment that was being used, not Baker’s. Baker did nothing but sign papers he didn’t even prepare.
- The Grievance Commission did note that Baker cooperated with the Commission’s investigation and none of the clients had complained about their service. They also noted that Baker did inquire as to the legality of the situation, but when he received no answer, he just kept on doing it, even though he thought it might be wrong.