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In re Morin

Supreme Court of Montana

February 8, 2018


         ODC File No. 16-210


         Hearing on the formal Complaint came before an adjudicatory panel of the Commission on Practice on January 10, 2018, in Helena, Montana. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel was represented by Deputy Disciplinary Counsel Jon Moog. Respondent was present and represented by Palmer Hooverstal. Panel members were Ward "Mick" Taleff (chair), Brad Belke, Jean Faure, Lori Maloney, Lois Menzies, Dan O'Brien and Heather Perry. Commissioner Dan McLean was excused from participation on this panel.

         Based upon the evidence presented, the Commission makes its findings of fact based on a clear and convincing standard, reaches its conclusions of law, and submits its recommendation for discipline.


         1. Tina Morin ("Morin") was admitted to the practice of law in Montana in 1992, at which time she took the oath required for admission, agreed to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Disciplinary Rules adopted by the Montana Supreme Court, and the highest standards of honesty, justice and morality, including but not limited to those outlined in parts 3 and 4 of Chapter 61, Title 37, Montana Code Annotated, then in effect or as thereafter amended.

         2. The Montana Supreme Court has approved and adopted the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct ("MRPC"), governing the ethical conduct of attorneys licensed to practice in the State of Montana. The MRPC were in effect at all times relevant to this matter.

         3. On July 2, 2015, Morin filed a lawsuit on behalf of her law firm in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Morin Law Firm v. Leonard Carder, et al, CV- 15-30-B-SEH. District Court Judge Sam E. Haddon presided over the case. The Complaint was subsequently amended on December 9, 2015, to add Morin individually as a Plaintiff.

         4. At a hearing held December 7, 2015, Judge Haddon told Morin that based on her admitted role as a witness, she could not represent her law firm in the case and would need to retain new counsel to do so. By a subsequent Order dated February 24, 2016, Judge Haddon gave the firm until March 4, 2016, to obtain new counsel. He expressly ruled that a failure to do so would result in all documents filed by Morin being stricken.

         5. Shortly before the deadline to retain new counsel, Morin engaged attorney Colin Delli Bovi in a conversation when they encountered each other at a courthouse. Delli Bovi was not at that time admitted to practice in federal court in Montana and had very limited legal experience. He had handled primarily a limited number of non-complex criminal cases and had virtually no civil litigation experience. Those facts were known to Morin. Delli Bovi had at the time never conducted a deposition, responded to a motion for summary judgment or to a motion for a protective order, or had otherwise been involved in any civil case of even moderate complexity. Nevertheless, Morin inquired as to his willingness to undertake work on behalf of her firm, including representation of her firm in the matter before Judge Haddon. Delli Bovi agreed to do so.

         6. On March 2, 2016, Delli Bovi filed a Notice of Appearance on behalf of Morin's firm and Morin. It appears he was admitted to federal practice that same day, sponsored by Morin.

         7. The litigation was contentious, eventually involving a dispute over the location of depositions of certain persons. Morin wanted the depositions to take place in Montana, while the Defendants insisted they had the right to be deposed in the location of their residence. On June 14, 2016, the Defendants filed a Motion for Protective Order when the parties continued lo disagree over the issue.

         8. The argument over where the depositions would be conducted also created a disagreement between Morin and Delli Bovi. He believed her position was not meritorious, while she insisted he file a response brief on the motion for a protective order. He refused to do so, and on June 15, 2016, Delli Bovi filed a Motion to Withdraw. As grounds for the motion, he represented that he was not competent to handle this type of case. Although not artfully phrased, his representation in that regard was accurate.

         9. On June 21, 2016, a hearing was held on the motion for a protective order and on the motion to withdraw. At the hearing, Judge Haddon expressly told Morin (again) that she was disqualified from appearing as counsel. Further, he advised Delli Bovi that he would not be allowed to withdraw until Morin and her firm had new counsel of record. Judge Haddon gave Delli Bovi until June 24, 2016, to file "any additional paperwork" supporting his motion to withdraw. Significantly, Morin told Judge Haddon at the hearing she did not object to Delli Bovi's withdrawal. She complained about his refusal to file a responsive brief to the motion for a protective order, stating:

He has filed documents and had correspondence with opposing Counsel that is harmful to the position, to my position in this case. He has taken a position and had conversations with opposing Counsel that was not authorized by me. And we do oppose their Motion for Protective Order. We do have a brief to file. Mr. Delli Bovi does not want to file it because, as he said to you and to the Court, he does not feel competent to proceed in this case, so - - (emphasis added)

         10. On June 24, 2016, Delli Bovi filed his Additional Support Regarding Motion to Withdraw from Representation. Delli Bovi attached to his pleading a Consent to Withdrawal ...

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