In the Matter of the Discipline of Richard LaJeunesse, #7408 Office of Professional Conduct, Appellant,
Richard LaJeunesse, Appellee.
Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Andrew
H. Stone No. 130905706
Barbara L. Townsend, Salt Lake City, for appellant
Elizabeth A. Bowman, Salt Lake City, for appellee
E. C. Leithead, Salt Lake City, for amicus curiae, Workers
Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the
Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Himonas, Judge
Mortensen, and Judge Hagen joined.
recused himself, Justice Pearce does not participate herein;
Court of Appeals Judge David N. Mortensen sat.
her retirement, Justice Durham did not participate herein;
Court of Appeals Judge Diana Hagen sat.
Justice Petersen became a member of the Court on November 17,
2017, after oral argument in this matter, and accordingly did
Associate Chief Justice
This is an appeal in an attorney discipline proceeding
involving Richard LaJeunesse. LaJeunesse has been licensed to
practice law in Utah since 1996. From 2001 through 2012, he
was the Presiding Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and Director
of the Adjudication Division of the Utah Labor Commission. In
that capacity he adjudicated workers' compensation
disputes between occupationally injured employees and their
employers or insurance carriers. He also oversaw the work of
This case arises out of a policy adopted by LaJeunesse in his
work as Presiding ALJ and Director of the Adjudication
Division. The policy concerned ALJs' treatment of medical
panel reports submitted under Utah Code section 34A-2-601(2).
That provision requires an appointed medical panel to make
"a report in writing to the administrative law judge in
a form prescribed by the Division of Adjudication." Utah
Code § 34A-2-601(2)(b)(i). It also directs the ALJ to
"promptly distribute full copies" of that report to
all parties and their attorneys. Id. §
34A-2-601(2)(d)(i). LaJeunesse interpreted this statute to
leave room for an ALJ to reject reports submitted by medical
panels and to request changes to the form and verbiage in a
report-without submitting the rejected report to the parties
or their attorneys. Applying this policy, another ALJ working
under LaJeunesse's supervision (Debbie Hann) rejected
reports she deemed noncompliant and requested medical panels
to submit replacement reports. In those instances she did not
provide a copy of the rejected report to the parties or to
their counsel. LaJeunesse knew of three of these instances.
And he personally participated in rejecting a medical panel
report and requesting a new report in one instance.
A party in one of these cases discovered that a medical panel
report had been rejected without being distributed to the
parties. An audit and investigation ensued. The Utah Labor
Commission ultimately concluded that the policy adopted by
LaJeunesse ran afoul of explicit and implicit mandates of the
Workers' Compensation Act, including the requirement that
ALJs "promptly distribute full copies" of medical
panel reports to parties and their attorneys. Id. It
also faulted LaJeunesse for embracing a policy that allowed
ALJs to destroy medical panel reports without informing the
parties of the existence of such reports or of the nature and
extent of proposed changes to them. Thus, the Commission
repudiated the policy adopted by LaJeunesse, instructing ALJs
that they could no longer withhold medical panel reports. And
the Commission ultimately terminated LaJeunesse for his role
in adopting and implementing a contrary policy.
LaJeunesse was then subjected to a bar complaint. After an
initial investigation by the Office of Professional Conduct
(OPC) a Notice of Informal Complaint was issued against
LaJeunesse. The complaint charged LaJeunesse with violating
rule 8.4(d) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct by
engaging in "conduct that is prejudicial to the
administration of justice."
That charge was heard by a screening panel of the Ethics and
Discipline Committee, which found probable cause to conclude
that LaJeunesse had violated rule 8.4(d). A petition was
subsequently filed by the OPC in the Third District Court.
The case was heard by Judge Andrew Stone. Judge Stone
concluded that LaJeunesse had not engaged in conduct
prejudicial to the administration of justice. He held that
LaJeunesse had a sound legal basis for the policy he had
adopted or, alternatively, that a lawyer exercising
quasi-judicial power (as an ALJ) cannot be found in violation
of rule 8.4(d) merely for adopting a reasonable
interpretation of a statutory scheme that is ultimately shown
to be incorrect.
We affirm on this latter ground. We conclude that a lawyer
cannot be charged with conduct prejudicial to the
administration of justice for adopting a good faith but
mistaken interpretation of a law that governs the
lawyer's performance of quasi-judicial authority. Cf.
In re Worthen, 926 P.2d 853, 870 (Utah 1996) (adopting a
similar standard for assessing judicial misconduct).
LaJeunesse's case was adjudicated in a five-day bench
trial in February 2016. At the close of the trial Judge Stone
entered extensive factual findings. We summarize the
background and findings in detail below with quotations from
the district court record.
ALJs hear contested claims for workers' compensation and
may appoint a medical panel to advise them regarding the
contested medical issues in the case. The medical panels are
considered "adjuncts" to the ALJ at the commission
level. But "[t]he final responsibility of making the
decision as to the issues in such a proceeding is given to
the Commission, " and the medical panel may not take
over this responsibility of the Commission. IGA Food Fair
v. Martin, 584 P.2d 828, 830 (Utah 1978)
(citation omitted), abandoned on other grounds by Allen
v. Indus. Comm'n, 729 P.2d 15 (Utah 1986).
Before referring a case to a medical panel, the ALJ makes
interim findings resolving any factual disputes. The medical
panel is bound by those findings; it is left only to resolve
any outstanding medical issues. The ALJ, on the other hand,
is not required to accept the medical panel's conclusions
if "substantial conflicting evidence in the case
supports a contrary finding." Utah Code §
By statute, the medical panel is to make "a report in
writing to the administrative law judge in a form prescribed
by the Division of Adjudication" and "additional
findings as the administrative law judge may require."
Id. § 34A-2-601(2)(b). The "administrative
law judge shall promptly distribute full copies of a report
submitted to the administrative law judge" to all
relevant parties and their attorneys. Id. §
34A-2-601(2)(d)(i). The parties then have 20 days to file
"a written objection to the report." Id.
§ 34A-2-601(2)(d)(ii). If no written objection is made
within the prescribed period, then "the report is
considered admitted in evidence." Id. §
In 2011 and 2012, there were numerous complaints about the
quality of medical reports provided by medical panels to
ALJs. Common complaints went to concerns that medical panels
assumed facts beyond or contrary to the ALJ's interim
findings, or that opinions were ...