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June 2012 CBA REPORT
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cover article
A
A
llan J. Rittenhouse was a Texas
lawyer who regularly practiced
bankruptcy law in the Upper
Peninsula of Michigan. He was admitted
to practice law by the State Bar of Texas
in 1992, and later that year, he moved
to Wisconsin.
1
His applications for
admission to the State Bar of Michigan
and the State Bar of Wisconsin were both
denied, but in February 1994, he was
admitted to practice before the United
States District Court for the Western
District of Michigan.
2
Since 1995, Rittenhouse’s law practice
has generally been limited to bankruptcy
matters. He was not licensed by the State
of Michigan to practice law at the time of
the events described herein, and it is not
apparent that he ever has been.
3
In July 1995, the State Bar of Michi-
gan informed Rittenhouse by letter that
his conduct constituted the unauthor-
ized practice of law.
4
He responded to the
effect that a practice limited to federal
bankruptcy did not constitute the unau-
thorized practice of law in Michigan.
5
He
heard nothing further from the State Bar
of Michigan at that time, and continued
to represent Michigan debtors from his
office in Iron Mountain, Michigan.
6
He
filed approximately 300 bankruptcy peti-
tions in 1998, and 400 petitions in 1999.
7
On October 13, 1999, a creditor, Delta
Home Improvement Inc., filed a motion
in the United States Bankruptcy Court
for the Western District of Michigan ask-
ing for an order suspending Rittenhouse,
the debtor’s counsel, from practicing in
that court until he was licensed by the
State of Michigan to practice law.
8
By Edwin (Terry) W. Patterson III
On December 6, 1999, the State Bar
of Michigan filed a motion for an order
allowing it to file an amicus brief; such
motion was subsequently granted.
9
On January 11, 2000, Delta filed an
amended motion for an order disbarr-
ing Rittenhouse from practicing before
the bankruptcy court for the Western
District of Michigan and for injunctive
relief, sanctions, and attorney fees pursu-
ant to the Bankruptcy Code.
10
The court
held an evidentiary hearing and accepted
closing arguments in writing.
11
The
bankruptcy judge found that Rittenhouse
identified himself as an “attorney at law”
on his business cards, letterhead, and
other stationary, and, as in his display
advertisements in the yellow pages, also
listed the courts in which he was admit-
ted to practice.
12
However, “these items
nowhere indicate that Rittenhouse is not
licensed to practice law in Michigan by
the State Bar, Michigan’s courts or other
agencies.”
13
Rittenhouse did not dispute any of
the facts established by the bankruptcy
judge.
14
The bankruptcy court completed
its analysis by deciding whether Rit-
tenhouse was an “attorney” within the
meaning of the Bankruptcy Code, and
whether his conduct amounted to the
unauthorized practice of law.
15
The court
undertook to harmonize the local rules
of the U.S. District Court and the U.S.
Bankruptcy Court for the Western Dis-
trict of Michigan with Michigan law and
with other sources of federal law, includ-
ing the Bankruptcy Code.
16
Ultimately,
the bankruptcy court concluded that fed-
eral law does not conflict with state law
concerning the practice of law, and held
“that Rittenhouse is not an ‘attorney’
within the meaning of the Code because
(with respect to his Michigan conduct
and clients) he is not ‘authorized by ap-
plicable law to practice law.’ ”
17
The court
declared Rittenhouse to be a bankruptcy
petition preparer instead of an attorney.
18
One need not be a bankruptcy attorney
to sense dissatisfaction with this ruling;
all codes and rules aside, concluding that
Rittenhouse was not an attorney defies
logic and plain meaning.
The court then undertook an analysis
of whether Rittenhouse had engaged in
the unauthorized practice of law.
19
The
court had already noted that in his repre-
sentation of approximately 700 Michigan
debtors from his office in Iron Mountain,
Michigan, Rittenhouse provided advice
with respect to Michigan and federal
exemptions, and a variety of state law
issues, including the validity and priority
of security interests in personal prop-
Who Should
Regulate the Bar
?
Editor’s note: Increasingly in our federal system, attorneys licensed in one state practice in another.
This can lead to complications when it comes to regulating an attorney’s conduct. In the following ar-
ticle, the author, CBA General Counsel Terry Patterson, explores the issue, highlighting the case of an
attorney licensed in one state, residing in another, and practicing in the bankruptcy court of a third.
It is axiomatic that the purpose of regulating the
bar is to protect the public from unethical and
incompetent practitioners.
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