Whistleblower Alleges Ethical Violations By North Dakota University System Lawyers

Kirsten Franzen was, up until November of last year, the top compliance officer for the North Dakota University System. Then she got sacked. According to her it was because she was asking too many questions about an alleged coverup of a major open records violation by North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani and supposedly leaking to me information about an open meeting violation last year (she didn’t).

Franzen has notified the state of possible litigation over wrongful termination (more on that here) and now she’s alleging in a complaint filed with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office that attorneys representing the NDUS in her case are violating state ethics laws.

I wrote about that at Watchdog today. You can read Franzen’s full complaint below.

An excerpt:

In a complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office and obtained exclusively by Watchdog via an open records request, Franzen states that attorney Tracy Kolb continues to represent the university system despite Franzen’s intention to call Kolb as a witness. Franzen states that Kolb was hired by the NDUS to replace her prior to her termination in November and that her own career interests make it unethical for her to represent the university system in this matter.

“Ms. Kolb was hired October 27, 2014, just seven days before I was placed on administrative leave pending termination,” Franzen writes in the complaint dated May 3.

Franzen states that Kolb was notified of her inclusion as a witness in the matter in February. She said Kolb’s continued representation of the NDUS in the matter violates the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, specifically rule 3.7 that states “a lawyer shall not act as an advocate at a trial where the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness…”

Franzen also alleges Kolb is violating rule 1.7 that prohibits attorneys from representing clients “when the lawyer’s own interests are likely to adversely affect the representation.”

“If the SBHE, as Ms. Kolb’s client, accepts my settlement offer and reinstates me to my position as Chief Compliance Officer, Ms. Kolb’s duties will be changed or eliminated,” Franzen writes in the complaint.

Franzen is also claiming that neither Kolb nor attorney Cynthia Goulet, who is also representing the university system in the matter, have informed the SBHE of her offer to settle the case. Her complaint alleges that on April 7 Kolb said she had informed her “clients” of the settlement offer. However, Franzen claims board member Kathleen Nesset said as of April 29 the board has never been notified of an offer to settle.

Rule 1.4 of the Rules for Professional Conduct states “a lawyer who receives from opposing counsel an offer of settlement in a civil controversy or a proffered plea bargain in a criminal case should promptly inform the client of its substance unless prior discussions with the client have left it clear that the proposal will be unacceptable.”

Neither Kolb nor Goulet responded to a request for comment I sent to them about the matter.

Here’s Franzen’s full complaint:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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