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Published October 24 2012

Fargo attorney disbarred for forgery, mishandling funds

FARGO – The North Dakota Supreme Court has disbarred a Fargo attorney who admitted to forging documents, lying to business associates and mishandling clients’ funds, saying a three-year suspension recommended by a disciplinary panel didn’t go far enough.

Disbarment of an attorney by the North Dakota Supreme Court is relatively rare. Only a dozen attorneys among the 2,300 in the state’s bar association have been disbarred in the past decade by the high court, which is in charge of discipline of lawyers, according to online court records.

According to the Supreme Court’s order, Alan McDonagh in January 2009 sought a $150,000 line of credit from Choice Financial, intending to pledge land as collateral. Knowing the bank would require an attorney other than him to do the title opinion, he used attorney Ryan Norrell’s letterhead and forged Norrell’s signature on both the preliminary and final title.

The case culminated with McDonagh pleading guilty on Jan. 9 to a misdemeanor charge of forgery or counterfeiting in Grand Forks County District Court. He received a deferred imposition of sentence, 40 hours of community service, one year of unsupervised probation and $325 in fees, court records show.

Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney Cherie Clark prosecuted the case.

“As a member of the North Dakota bar, this was offensive to me, and as a prosecutor, it was a clear case of forgery, which could have resulted in harm to Mr. Norrell’s reputation,” she said Wednesday.

Among McDonagh’s other wrongdoings listed in the order:

McDonagh admitted to misapplying $28,448 from 19 clients and gave the law firm a check for that amount along with a list of the clients entitled to refunds or adjustments. It was later discovered he’d misapplied $21,500 in funds from six others clients.

The Supreme Court placed McDonagh on interim suspension in June 2011 after a petition for discipline was filed against him.

A panel of the state Disciplinary Board approved a negotiated stipulation with McDonagh, recommending he be suspended for three years, pay $8,000 in restitution, refund clients as needed and pay the costs of the proceeding.

The Supreme Court accepted the board’s recommendations except for the sanctions. Justices stated that while it’s important to promote cooperation and restitution, “the protection of the public and the profession is paramount.”

A listed phone number for McDonagh could not be found. His attorney in the disciplinary proceedings, Al Boucher, said he no longer represented McDonagh and couldn’t provide his number.

Grand Forks Herald reporter Stephen J. Lee contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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