Legal Ethics

Lawyer Suspended for Hiding Client's 'Ironic' Death During Settlement Negotiations

A Minnesota lawyer has been suspended from law practice for at least a year for failing to disclose during settlement negotiations that his client had died.

In an April 8 opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court suspended lawyer Thomas John Lyons Jr. of Vadnais Heights, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s blog The Whistleblower.

The opinion (PDF) summarized the allegations. Lyons was working at a firm known as the Consumer Justice Center when he filed suit against a credit reporting agency for erroneously reporting his client was dead. About a year later, the client was hospitalized and died.

Lyons finalized a $19,000 settlement less than a month later, referring to the client’s hospitalization but not his death, the opinion says. The client’s wife signed the settlement agreement through power of attorney. After receiving the settlement agreement, the credit reporting agency asked if Lyons’ client had died. Two days later, Lyons replied, “Yes—HOW IRONIC.”

When pressed for details, Lyons said the case settled before he learned of the death—an assertion later contradicted by a lawyer Lyons had hired as local counsel to file the lawsuit and by the lawyers’ e-mails.

The opinion noted that Lyons has been disciplined seven other times for “material misrepresentations, prosecuting frivolous claims, and failure to follow appropriate procedure.” The court imposed an indefinite suspension, with no right to apply for reinstatement for a year.

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