After 43 years, is this Randall Tigue's last stand?

Controversial attorney defended the adult entertainment industry for decades

By Mike Mosedale
BridgeTower Media Newswires

MINNEAPOLIS - In the course of a 43-year legal career, Randall Tigue carved out a niche as the state's most prominent defender of the adult entertainment industry, going toe-to-toe with cities and counties countless times over rules and regulations he has cast as an end run on free speech rights of his clients.

Those battles - and his often controversial clients - have not made Tigue the most popular lawyer in the state.

Back in 1990, Tigue's representation of the late sex shop magnate Ferris Alexander landed him in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors, who succeeded in getting the lawyer indicted for allegedly engineering a complex and long-running tax fraud on behalf of his longtime client.

In the end, Alexander wound up in ruins, stripped of his business empire and shipped off to prison, but Tigue was tried separately. After fellow members of the bar rallied to raise an estimated $100,000 to help foot the bill for his defense, the one-time head of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union was acquitted of all charges.

That seemed like ancient history at the Minnesota Supreme Court last Monday, where Tigue wasn't fighting for his liberty but, rather, the right to hang up a shingle.

With his career in the balance, Tigue was unrepentant and, at times, defiant as he pushed back against the notion that he should be disbarred over "clerical and mathematical" errors that led to overdrafts in his lawyers trust account.

"The [lawyers professional responsibility] board is asking to disbar me for conduct that doesn't even merit the opening of a disciplinary investigation for any other attorney in the history of the state of Minnesota," said Tigue, who claimed that he had maintained all the required records and then used them to promptly correct his mistakes.

Over the three-month period in question, everyone agrees, the trust account shortages were relatively paltry, ranging between $38 and $650, and that no clients suffered financial harm as a result of the overdrafts.

According to the second count of the disciplinary petition, however, Tigue did cause one ex-client to sustain a loss - $12 bank fee that was incurred when Tigue returned part of a retainer and his check bounced.

Still, Megan Engelhardt, a senior assistant director at the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, argued that disbarment was the appropriate sanction given Tigue's "lack of remorse" and prior disciplinary history.

That history stretches back to 2007, when the Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him for mismanagement of his trust account. In 2014, the court suspended Tigue for 30 days for similar transgressions and again the following year, briefly, after he missed a court-imposed deadline for re-taking the professional responsibility portion of the bar exam.

"It shows that he continually disregards these rules," Engelhardt said. "He doesn't seem to take this very seriously. He doesn't ask questions. He doesn't ask for help. I don't see how putting him on probation will truly protect the public."

The OLPR's push for disbarment exceeds the recommendation of referee Bruce Christopherson, the retired district court judge who presided over Tigue's disciplinary hearing last fall. In his report to the court, Christopherson opined that Tigue should receive an indefinite suspension for a minimum of two years.

Although Christopherson found that Tigue's trust account shortages were inadvertent, he faulted the lawyer for not using "sound accounting principles." But Christopherson also concluded that there was "an element of intentional misappropriation" in Tigue's handling of his dispute over the retainer agreement with restaurateur Rodney DeWalt.

DeWalt paid Tigue a $2,000 retainer to sue the city of Brooklyn Park over the denial of a conditional use permit for his proposed bar and restaurant, $400 of which was to be used for the filing fee in federal court. While Tigue drafted a complaint alleging racial discrimination against DeWalt, he never filed the suit.

After lawyer and client split, DeWalt wanted his money back. When he didn't get it promptly, he complained to the OLPR.

At the Supreme Court, Tigue insisted that he was entitled to keep the $400 under the terms of his retainer agreement with DeWalt and the principle of quantum meruit. In the end, he relented and mailed DeWalt a check for $400, which bounced, before sending him a $400 money order. Still, he said, he had done nothing wrong.

That prompted a pointed question from Chief Justice Lorie Gildea: If that's so, why give back the money?

"The reason I gave the money back is that I had a conference with Ms. Engelhardt and she said, 'If you don't give the money back, we're going to seek disbarment,'" Tigue responded. "I believed the money would avoid that and obviously it didn't."

Tigue attributed his fallout with DeWalt on DeWalt's unwillingness to provide the financial documentation to an expert witness, a measure that Tigue believed was necessary in order to bring a viable claim for damages.

When DeWalt urged him to go ahead and sue anyway, Tigue explained, he refused on the grounds that to do so would violate Rule 11 of the federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 11 bars attorneys from filing a suit without having admissible evidence to support its allegations.

"What's particularly egregious is that I wouldn't be here today if I had totally disregarded my ethical obligations and filed the complaint," said Tigue.

Tigue also bluntly accused his former client of lying at the disciplinary hearing last September when he testified that Tigue had not refunded the $400 filing fee. Tigue said he sent DeWalt the money order in August but DeWalt waited until the day after the hearing to cash it.

In a parting shot, he faulted Engelhardt for failing to correct the record after he provided documentation of the sequence of events.

"Not only did she not take remedial action to correct it, she doubled down on the false testimony by relying on it in her memorandum to the referee and her brief to this court," said Tigue. "I believe I have fully complied with the rules of professional responsibility but I can't say the same about Ms. Engelhardt."

In her closing remarks, Engelhardt did not squarely address that claim. However, she said it was never the OLPR's position that Tigue should have brought a meritless lawsuit on DeWalt's behalf. Rather, she said, he should not have kept the filing fee and instead filed an attorney's lien.

Published: Mon, Apr 17, 2017