Court suspends law license of former Senate majority leader
ST. PAUL — Former Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger won’t be able to practice law for at least 18 months after the Minnesota Supreme Court indefinitely suspended his law license.
The punishment was announced Friday and comes three months after the state lawyers board accused him of misusing money from a client’s lawsuit settlement.
Hottinger, a Democrat who left the Legislature after the 2006 session, previously admitted that the infraction took place while he was still a legislator. He has said he effectively borrowed $8,820 over six months from the settlement. He said he used the money to help pay his mortgage and always planned to replenish the account.
Hottinger won’t be allowed to apply for the reinstatement of his law license for 18 months and only after he completes ethics portions of the state bar exam.
Hottinger said by e-mail that the decision comes as no surprise. He said he and the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility mutually agreed to the suspension in a petition to the court.
"I made a serious mistake, I promptly acknowledged it, I cooperated with the Office and I accept the consequences," Hottinger said.
In the Supreme Court’s order, filed Wednesday, justices said misuse of client funds can lead to disbarment but the punishment is in line with discipline in other cases.
"The court further notes that respondent has no prior disciplinary history in over 34 years of practice, has exhibited genuine remorse for his conduct, has made complete restitution of all missing funds, has done significant pro bono work throughout the course of his legal career, and has been a long-time public servant," Justice Helen Meyer wrote in her three-page order.
In one filing with the court, Hottinger listed his long record of public service in Minnesota and elsewhere. He noted that he spent nearly $40,000 of his own money representing a Texas inmate on death row.
The account he misused was created after a $22,000 settlement he reached Jan. 10, 2006 on behalf of a client identified only by her initials. It was meant to pay her legal and medical bills and other costs. Hottinger personally received $4,910 for representing the woman.
Hottinger has been working as a lobbyist. He severed ties with some of his clients after the allegations became public. But he still is registered on behalf of the Ready 4 K advocacy group.
During his 16 years in office, Hottinger served one session — in 2003 — as the Senate’s leader, but was replaced in that post later that qear.
Hottinger has been a licensed attorney in Minnesota since 1972, but he has said he no longer actively practices law.
Brian Bakst can be reached at bbakst(at)ap.org