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In re Bjornson

Supreme Court of Montana

May 17, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF DAVID H. BJORNSON, an Attorney at Law, Respondent.

          ORDER

         On February 7, 2018, a formal disciplinary complaint was filed against Montana attorney David H. Bjornson. The disciplinary complaint, which is based upon Bjornson's November 2017 conviction in the Fourth Judicial District Court of felony driving under the influence (DUI), may be reviewed by any interested person in the office of the Clerk of this Court.

         Bjornson tendered to the Commission on Practice a conditional admission and affidavit of consent, pursuant to Rule 26 of the Montana Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (MRLDE). The Commission held a hearing on the conditional admission and affidavit of consent on April 19, 2018, at which hearing Bjornson and his counsel were present and Bjornson testified on his own behalf.

         On May 3, 2018, the Commission submitted to this Court its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation that Bjornson's conditional admission be accepted. The Commission stated this recommendation was "reluctantly made by a slight majority of the members of the Adjudicatory Panel, " and expressed its unanimous concern for "the perception the public and other lawyers would take from what might be seen in recommending a form of discipline that is lenient given the length and severity of Mr. Bjornson's struggle with alcohol" The Commission found Bjornson's criminal history of six DUI-related convictions to be "deeply troubling." The Commission determined to make its recommendation based upon the onerous conditions with which Bjornson must comply, particularly over the next five years, when conditions will be co-monitored by the criminal justice system, the lack of any showing of loss to a client or the filing of an ethical complaint by a client, and the lack of opposition by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

         We approve the findings, conclusions, and recommendation of the Commission on Practice, but share the Commission's concerns about Bjornson's long struggle with sobriety. We adopt the Commission's Recommendation upon its rationale that, "[s]hould [Bjornson] violate the terms of his probation, he will be incarcerated and he will lose his license to practice law." A loss of license could likewise occur if Bjornson violates a condition of his 10-year term of license probation recommended by the Commission.

         In his conditional admission, Bjornson has admitted that his conviction of felony DUI and his alcohol addiction affect his ability to effectively practice law. He admits to violations of Rule 8A(3) of the Montana Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement and Rule 8.4(b) of the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct. Bjornson's admission was tendered in exchange for the following discipline: a public censure by this Court, a 10-year term of probation with terms and conditions that would run concurrent with a five-year probationary sentence on his criminal case, and payment of costs.

         Based upon the foregoing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

         1.The Commission's Recommendation that we accept Bjornson's Rule 26 tendered admission is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED.

         2. David H. Bjornson shall appear before this Court for a public censure to be administered in our Courtroom, at 1:00 o'clock P.m. on June 12, 2018.

         3. Bjornson's admission to the practice of law in Montana is placed on a probationary status for ten years following the date of this Order, subject to the following terms and conditions:

a. Bjornson shall not use or possess alcohol, marijuana, or illegal drugs.
b. Bjornson shall not enter any place where intoxicants are the principal/chief item for sale.
c. Bjornson shall not gamble or play any games of chance.
d. Bjornson shall provide the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) with the names and full contact information of all chemical dependency treatment providers and mental health care providers he consults with, receives treatment from, or sees, and provide monthly reports pertaining to his progress, participation, and treatment that will include diagnosis and prognosis for the ...

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