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Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe executive suspended from law practice

In 2007, Robert H. Aitken III, a Minnesota attorney currently serving as Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe executive director, signed a client's name to a plea agreement without the client's knowledge or consent.

On July 29, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that by forging the client's name on the plea petition, Aitken submitted a misleading document to the district court.

As a consequence, Aitken has been suspended from the practice of law in Minnesota for 90 days and put on two years of unsupervised probation.

According to the Supreme Court filing, in 2007 Aikten was defending a woman who was charged with trespass and obstruction in Beltrami County District Court. On March 21, 2007, the prosecutor offered a plea agreement, in which the obstruction charge would be dismissed if the woman pleaded guilty to the trespass charge. Aitken agreed to the terms. She received the plea petition, but set the paperwork aside without looking at it. On June 1, 2007, Aitken signed the woman's name to the plea petition and dated it May 24, 2007, to make appear that she had signed and returned the paperwork in a timely manner.

About a year later, the Beltrami County Court administrator sent the woman a letter about her failure to pay the fine imposed by the plea petition. The woman didn't know anything about the plea petition or conditions and requested a copy. She didn't recognize her signature and contacted Chief Public Defender Kristine Kolar to report that the signature on the plea petition wasn't hers.

Kolar spoke with the woman, who then actually signed a plea petition July 14, 2008, agreeing to the same plea and sentence.

Kolar filed a complaint against Aitken charging unprofessional conduct. The hearing on the charges was held Sept. 30, 2009.

Aitken has no previous history of disciplinary action, but the court ruled that was not a mitigating factor.

Bemidji attorney Tom Kuesel, who represented Aitken, said the disciplinary action doesn't interfere with Aitken discharge of his duties at Leech Lake Band executive director.

"It does not because he does not need a law license to hold that position," Kuesel said.