(CN) – The 8th Circuit refused to block a disciplinary board from prosecuting a North Dakota tribal attorney for allegedly altering a contingency fee agreement with his tribal clients, saying federal courts should steer clear of state judicial proceedings.
Vance Gillette represented five members of the Three Affiliated Tribes – the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation – in wrongful firing cases in tribal court. The tribe settled the cases for $35,000 each.
Gillette later sued his clients, seeking a 30 percent contingency fee. But the clients claimed Gillette had altered written agreements establishing a 10 percent contingency fee.
“This man does not deserve a lawyer license, and does not deserve to represent anyone in court because of his tactics,” one client said in a written complaint.
The tribal court awarded Gillette a 10 percent fee on the settlements, and the Disciplinary Board of the North Dakota Supreme Court launched disciplinary proceedings against him.
Gillette asked a federal judge to block the proceedings, but the judge refused to interfere with a state disciplinary matter, a principle known as the Younger abstention doctrine.
The federal appeals court in St. Louis affirmed on appeal.
“If the three prerequisites to Younger abstention are present, a lower federal court may not consider the state court’s jurisdiction in the ongoing judicial proceeding, absent extraordinary circumstance,” Judge James Loken wrote.
“[W]e have no doubt that this case involves an ongoing state judicial proceeding for the purposes of Younger abstention.”