The Nebraska Supreme Court suspended an Omaha attorney's law license for two years Friday, citing improper conduct connected to her handling of court filings in a family legal dispute.
Julianne Dunn Herzog failed to tell a Douglas County judge about court papers she had filed in a dispute over guardianship of her elderly mother and had filed the papers to "harass and embarrass" a brother who served as their mother's appointed guardian, the court said in its ruling.
The court's Counsel for Discipline had charged Herzog with four alleged violations of the Nebraska Rules of Professional Conduct. After a hearing, a referee determined Herzog had violated three sections of the rules and recommended she be disbarred.
In its ruling, the court noted Herzog's misconduct had only happened "in the context of emotionally charged and highly personal matters," and said she was not likely to behave in such a way with other clients. They also pointed to Herzog's claim that she was facing emotional, health and financial problems.
"Herzog's repeated and obsessive acts of misconduct" in her mother's guardianship and conservatorship proceedings "do not warrant leniency," the court wrote. "But, in our opinion, they are not so egregious as to warrant disbarment."
In its ruling, the court said Herzog has disagreed with her siblings about virtually everything related to the guardianship case and had faced disciplinary action in the case twice before. A lower court judge appointed Herzog's brother as their mother's guardian, and concluded it was in her best interests to live at an assisted living facility in Minneapolis. The brother was authorized to control visitation and telephone calls, and to have sole contact with their mother's living facilities.
The court said Herzog filed various motions in the guardianship case, claiming to represent her mother's interests, when she actually had been granted leave to withdraw. She received a private reprimand from the Council for Discipline.
Her second disciplinary action in 2008 resulted from evidence showing she filed two notices of appeal and a petition for further review on her mother's behalf. The Nebraska Supreme Court issued a three-month suspension for her "continued unethical behavior," followed by one year probation.
The third action, which prompted Friday's suspension, originated with a July 2008 court hearing on Herzog's filings to remove her brother as their mother's guardian. Herzog had referenced bruising on her mother's arm as evidence of possible abuse, and said she had been unable to learn other details about her mother's health.
A judge later learned Herzog had filed the same court documents in Minnesota, where her mother lives, three days before the hearing without telling him. When the judge questioned her, according to the ruling, Herzog raised her voice and accused the judge of abuse. Herzog said she did not know that the documents had been filed at the time of the July hearing, the ruling said.
Herzog, in an interview, said she was "sickened" by the court system, which she said has failed to protect her mother's money and health. She said she was acting in a personal, private capacity and was represented by a Minneapolis lawyer who had advised her to file the court papers in Minnesota.
Herzog said her 88-year-old mother is in a Minnesota facility, and that her brother terminated her visitation rights 20 months ago. She said her mother has broken her wrist twice at the facility, has lost weight and suffered other injuries.
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Neb. Supreme Court Suspends Omaha Attorney's Law License for 2 Years Amid Family Legal Dispute
State v Herzog