Rachel Toberman, train wreck St. Paul lawyer, is awaiting discipline, can still practice law

Would you want this woman representing you in court?
Would you want this woman representing you in court?

Rachel Toberman, licensed to practice law in Minnesota in 2008, presumably had her shit together at one point. She does not have her shit together now.

On May 8, the state board that monitors lawyers' ethics recommended that Toberman have her license suspended by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The recommendation comes a year after Toberman landed herself in trouble with the law thanks to an outrageous incident at Sweeney's Saloon in St. Paul where she allegedly punched and kicked police officers while swearing and laughing at them.

At the time of that incident, Toberman's legal career was already going down the toilet thanks to her propensity to lie to clients while taking their money and not doing any legal work in return.

According to the Pioneer Press, in November 2009, Toberman agreed to represent both parties during their divorce for a $1,000 flat fee. Only lawyers who are certified as "qualified neutrals" are supposed to represent both parties in divorce cases, and Toberman was not one of them. But that didn't stop her -- she simply lied to the couple and told them she was qualified.

That was far from the last time Toberman would lie to the divorcing couple. In March 2010, she sent an e-mail to the couple informing them she had submitted their divorce petition to the court. In correspondence with the couple, she reaffirmed she had submitted the petition five times over the next seven weeks. In fact, the petition had never been submitted.

Understandably fed up, the husband fired Toberman in May 2010. He requested Toberman return all documents related to the case and won a small-claims court judgment for $575, but the husband has yet to receive either the reimbursement or the divorce documents.

Toberman allegedly created quite the scene at Sweeney's.
Toberman allegedly created quite the scene at Sweeney's.

While Toberman's legal career was careening off the rails in 2010, her personal life went off the tracks in 2011. On January 16 of that year, she allegedly created quite the scene at Sweeney's Saloon. A patron with a window seat observed Toberman's car run into his vehicle in the parking lot, then watched as she got out of her car and entered the bar. Once she was inside, the man confronted Toberman, but she told him, "I'm a lawyer. You can't prove I was driving," according to the man's recollection of the incident as reported at the time.

The man called police, but when officers arrived Toberman refused to step outside and talk about the incident. She tried to push an officer away, at which time the officer tried to place Toberman under arrest. She responded by punching and kicking the officer. Backup arrived to try and help calm her down, and Toberman punched one of the arriving officers in the lip while laughing.

She was then hauled to jail, where she continued to physically and verbally berate officers. Toberman was ultimately charged with obstructing the legal process and refusing to take a blood alcohol test. The case remains pending.
The ethics board has been investigating Toberman for almost two years, but in recent months she hasn't responded to investigators' attempts to contact her. During her last reported contact with the board in May 2011, she said she had been sober since February of that year. Investigators, however, determined Toberman was lying after they obtained medical records from a hospital where she was treated following an April 30, 2011 accident. Toberman, injured while riding as passenger, had a 0.22 blood-alcohol level at the hospital -- almost three times over the legal limit.

In the petition filed Tuesday, the ethics board accuses Toberman of failing to work on a client's matter and not disclosing a conflict of interest. Despite those well-documented offenses, her legal troubles, and her history of lying, she can continue to practice law until the Minnesota Supreme Court acts on the petition.

The state Supreme Court handles ethics violation cases for lawyers.
The state Supreme Court handles ethics violation cases for lawyers.

Martin Cole, director of the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, told City Pages that the process of reviewing an ethics petition can take up to a year, but could be expedited if Toberman and the ethics board can agree on a joint discipline recommendation.

He said the ethics board typically follows precedent when recommending punishment, which suggests in Toberman's case that she could be looking at a six-month to two-year suspension, but probably not disbarment.

"A lot of it has to do with the historical context of all the other discipline cases, and while they aren't binding precedents, you have to look at the alleged misconduct and compare it to other cases," Cole said. "The fact of the matter is failing to take action on a case, lying to a client, failing to cooperate has basically not been the stuff of disbarment unless there is already a substantial disciplinary history, which is not there" for Toberman.

"You can argue whether that's the right answer philosophically," Cole acknowledged. Of course, since the criminal charges against Toberman are pending, those won't be factored into the disciplinary proceedings, and Cole said she remains "free to practice law" until the process runs its course.

So with that in mind, a word of advice for those of you who might need legal help in Toberman's specialty areas of divorce and custody cases, drug offenses, DUI, and other criminal matters -- for the love of God, don't hire her.

For another train wreck lawyer tale, see:
-- Shana Buchanan, extremely lazy Twin Cities lawyer, could be disbarred

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