For years, Utah attorney Susan Rose received warnings about the number and quality of the motions she was filing in her cases.
One judge made note of Rose’s “constant stream of motions, corrections to motions, amendments to motions, refiling of motions ... and further briefings of motions after oral arguments.”
Judges commenting on her briefs used terms that included “bizarre,” “inscrutable,” “frivolous,” “legally meritless,” “wholly superfluous,” “unresponsive, immaterial, and redundant” and “not based in reality.”
On Tuesday, nearly a decade after formal disciplinary proceedings began, the Utah Supreme Court affirmed an order disbarring Rose for violating professional conduct rules.
In a 5-0 opinion, the justices rejected the Sandy lawyer’s challenges to the attorney discipline system and said that “we add our voice to the chorus of courts who have found Rose’s briefing to be ‘bizarre.’ ”
Rose, who was admitted to the Utah State Bar in 1999, could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Enforcement of the disbarment order had been stayed during an appeal and, as of Thursday, Rose was still listed in Utah State Bar records as an active attorney.
The disciplinary proceedings stem from complaints on how Rose handled two unrelated cases, one of them a federal suit by former employees of the Montezuma Creek Clinic in San Juan County who claimed they had been wrongfully fired and the other involving a petition for grandparent visitation filed in state court.
The Utah State Bar received two informal complaints, in 2001 and 2005, about the deluge of motions Rose was filing and the quality of her work. Rose asked to postpone the investigation to accommodate concerns about her health and both cases were delayed until 2007, according to court documents.
In December 2007, the Bar’s Office of Professional Conduct (OPC) filed a formal complaint in 3rd District Court alleging a dozen violations of rules concerning competence, conflict of interest and the merit of claims, among other areas.
Court documents say Rose filed numerous motions seeking dismissal of the complaint, extensions of deadlines, a change of venue and disqualification of judges assigned to hear the matter. She also alleged the OPC’s action against her was unconstitutional and invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, claiming she did not have to produce requested documents.
After a default judgment was entered against Rose in July 2010, she continued to file motion after motion to delay a sanctions hearing, the Supreme Court said in its opinion. The proceeding was finally scheduled for February 2012 but delayed again when Rose said her father was dying and that she was “mentally and emotionally incapable of functioning for the hearing,” court documents say.
Rose continued to file motions asking for dismissal of the case and contending the District Court did not have authority over attorney discipline proceedings. Her motions were denied and a sanctions hearing was held in August 2015.
At the beginning of the hearing, Rose told 3rd District Judge Royal Hansen that she denied the allegations but believed any defense she raised would be futile, according to court documents.
“I think it’s fair to say I know how this will go, I know how the end result will be, and I’m done,” Rose said.
She left the hearing and did not return. In November 2015, Hansen issued his findings that Rose had violated professional rules and an order disbarring her. Rose appealed the order to the Utah Supreme Court; by then, the case record had exceeded 28,000 pages.
Writing for the court, Justice John Pearce said there is no doubt Rose believes she did not violate the rules. However, she launched a “broadside attack” on the attorney discipline system, rather than explicitly arguing that she did not commit the underlying violations or explicitly claiming that Hansen had applied the wrong sanction, he said.
“While we recognize that disbarment is the most serious sanction a court may impose on an attorney for professional conduct violations, we acknowledge that Rose did not challenge the substance of the district court’s sanction, opting instead to level constitutional challenges to the entire attorney discipline system,” Pearce wrote. “Rose’s arguments are inadequately briefed, and to the extent we can decipher them, they are without merit.”
Joining in the opinion were Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee, Justice Christine Durham and Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill Pohlman. Pohlman sat in on the case in place of Justice Deno Himonas, who recused himself because he had handled the case as a 3rd District judge for a few years before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.
Editor’s note: Jennifer Napier-Pearce, the wife of state Supreme Court Justice John Pearce, is the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.