The U.S. District Court for the NMI has followed the CNMI Supreme Court’s lead, granting last week Stephen Woodruff’s petition for reinstatement to practice law in the Commonwealth.
According to District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, Woodruff is allowed to practice law again in the federal court, with conditions. Manglona has yet to issue an order stating these conditions.
Meanwhile, in a reinstatement order from the CNMI Supreme Court dated Sept. 30, the high court found that Woodruff has met his burden to convey an understanding of his professional responsibility and of the wrongfulness and severity of the conduct that led to his disbarment.
“Woodruff has met his burden of showing that he did not engage in any unauthorized practice of law, and that he appreciates the wrongfulness and severity of his actions leading to his initial disbarment. Together with testimonials from prominent members of the Commonwealth legal community to his ability to maintain an effective practice, Woodruff has presented clear and convincing evidence that he is qualified to practice law,” the order stated.
However, the CNMI Supreme Court imposed conditions on Woodruff’s reinstatement. The condition was that for one year following his reinstatement, Woodruff shall monthly submit under seal to the Supreme Court Clerk of Court’s Office a list of active clients and cases in CNMI courts.
“If, under the court’s supervision, he demonstrates the ability to maintain his practice free of the problems that led to his disbarment, he will be unconditionally reinstated one year from the date of entry of this order,” the order stated.
Back in 2017, the district court disbarred Woodruff from the practice of law before the federal court for violating his duties of competence and diligence in representing a client in a civil lawsuit that resulted in the dismissal and closure of the case. A year later, in 2018, the Superior Court imposed similar sanctions against Woodruff, disbarring him from practicing law with the local trial court.
During the hearing on Woodruff’s petition that was held last July 26, the high court asked him whether he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law during his disbarment. Woodruff stated that he performed paralegal work for attorneys Joe Hill and Michael Evangelista and consulting work for attorney James Sirok but that he had no client contact.
He also acknowledged having assisted a pro se appellant with drafting court documents, but he maintained that the scope of this aid was restricted to nonlegal clerical work.