On Tuesday, June 27, 2023, the State of Minnesota Supreme Court temporarily suspended attorney Fong E. Lee for misappropriation of funds and failure to communicate.

The case is entitled “In the matter of Fong E. Lee” with case no. A23-0008.

The charges cited Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a), 1.15(b), 1.15(c)(4),  8.4(c), 1.4(a)(4), 8.4(d), 1.15(h), 4.1, 1.3, 1.4(a)(2) and (b), 1.15(c)(5), 8.1(b) and Rule 25 of Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility, which state:

Respondent’s misappropriation of his client’s funds.

Respondent knows the false statement to his client.

Respondent’s verbal modification of a contingent fee agreement.

Respondent’s failure to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information about payments to Nature.

Respondent’s failure to pay a law-related judgment against him.

Respondent’s failure to maintain the required trust account book.

Respondent knows the false statement to his client regarding services to be provided.

Respondent’s failure for several years to prepare and file his client’s application to adjust status.

Respondent failures to explain to his client the steps he was taking in his case and failure to inform his client of the status of the matter, including denials that had been issued.

Respondent’s failures to deposit unearned fees into a trust account absent a valid flat fee retained.

Respondent’s failure to timely and completely cooperate violated Rule 8.1(b).

The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.

On January 3, 2023, the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility filed disciplinary charges against the respondent over the case of misappropriation, failure to communicate, and improper contingent fee agreement. The respondent faced numerous alleged violations, including misappropriation, failure to communicate, and improper contingent fee agreements. Prior to these alleged violations, the respondent had been placed on private probation for not maintaining the required trust account books and records, resulting in fund shortages. Furthermore, the respondent had received a public reprimand and probation for improper use of their trust account, mixing earned fees with client funds, and failing to cooperate. Most recently, the respondent had been issued an admonition for charging an unreasonable fee, agreeing to receive additional fees, not depositing an advance fee into a trust account, lacking a compliant flat fee retainer agreement, and failing to provide a receipt countersigned by the payor for a cash payment.

The report states:

“On May 19, 2021, the respondent withdrew $3,000 from his trust account. Respondent attributed the withdrawal to Phoua Vang but failed to provide Phoua Vang with any accounting or other documentation of the withdrawal. On May 24, 2021, the respondent made two additional withdrawals totaling $3,500 and paid the funds to himself. Respondent attributed the withdrawals to Phoua Vang but failed to provide Phoua Vang any accounting or other documentation of the withdrawal.”

The report continues:

“From 2015 through 2017, Mai Xiong was unable to reach respondents about the adjustment of status process. Respondent failed to respond to letters, failed to pick up or return phone calls, and failed to respond to text messages from Mai Xiong. 72. On January 1, 2018, the respondent contacted Mai Xiong via letter and requested two cashier’s checks in the amounts of $535 and $1,225 to pay for fees associated with the application to adjust status (Form 1-485). Respondent’s letter also enclosed “signature sheets” for the application and requested Mai Xiong and K.V. sign those sheets.”

The report further states:

“Director respectfully prays for an order disbarring the respondent or imposing otherwise appropriate discipline, awarding costs and disbursements pursuant to the Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility.”

Following the petition for disciplinary action filed by the Director of the Office of Lawyers Profesional Responsibility, a supplementary petition for disciplinary action was also filed on February 13, 2023. To address the matter, it was referred to a referee, who was responsible for gathering findings of fact, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations for disposition. After the hearing, the referee found that the respondent violated the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Supreme Court accepted the referee’s recommendation of disbarment and ordered that the respondent be disbarred from the practice of law in Minnesota.

The Disposition states:

“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that respondent Fong E. Lee is temporarily suspended from the practice of law, effective as of the date of this order, pending final resolution of this matter. Respondent shall comply with Rule 26, RLPR (requiring notice of suspension to clients, opposing counsel, and tribunals.”

Mr. Lee

A copy of the original filing can be found here.