Wisconsin Lawyer: Lawyer Discipline:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

Top Link Bar

News & Pubs Search

Advanced
  • Wisconsin Lawyer
    February
    01
    2013

    Lawyer Discipline


    Share This:
    The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and component of the lawyer regulation system, assists the court in carrying out its constitutional responsibility to supervise the practice of law and protect the public from misconduct by lawyers. The OLR has offices at 110 E. Main St., Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703; toll-free (877) 315-6941. The full text of items summarized in this column can be viewed at www.wicourts.gov/olr.

    Public reprimand of James E. Toran

    The Officer of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and James E. Toran, Milwaukee, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A Wisconsin Supreme Court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on Nov. 3, 2012, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3). The reprimand is based on Toran's misconduct in three matters.

    In the first matter, Toran represented a man on several criminal charges. The client's family members paid Toran fees totaling $1,500 for the representation. Toran failed to provide his client with a written fee agreement, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1).

    In the second matter, Toran represented a man on several criminal charges. The client paid Toran fees totaling $2,500. Toran failed to provide the client with a written fee agreement, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1). Additionally, despite repeated requests, Toran failed to provide the client with a copy of the discovery in the case, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(4). In violation of SCR 22.03(6), Toran made a misrepresentation when he indicated during the course of the investigation of the disciplinary matter that he had visited his client in jail but the jail no longer had records of his visit; in fact, the jail had records of the client's visitors during the relevant time but those records did not reflect a visit from Toran.

    In the third matter, Toran represented a client on an armed robbery charge. Toran failed to respond to appellate counsel's requests for the client's file and failed to promptly deliver the client's file to appellate counsel, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(d).

    In 1989, Toran's license to practice law was suspended for six months. In 1991, he was publicly reprimanded. In 2007, he received a private reprimand.

    Public reprimand of Sara L. Bergman

    The OLR and Sara L. Bergman, 36, Cedarburg, agreed to imposition of a public reprimand pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on Nov. 1, 2012.

    Bergman was employed as claims counsel for a title insurance company that insured two adjacent lots when they were purchased by a husband and wife (the couple). After the couple built a home on the first lot, a neighbor filed a lawsuit against the couple in 2006, alleging that the new home violated a deed restriction. The deed restriction was not listed as an exception from coverage in the title insurance policies.

    The parties to the lawsuit settled the suit with a stipulation that any home built on the second lot by the couple would comply with the deed restriction. Before agreeing to the stipulation, the couple's counsel contacted Bergman, who confirmed the title company's approval of the proposed stipulation. Bergman also confirmed that the settlement would not affect the title company's coverage of a possible decrease in value of the second lot resulting from the couple's compliance with the deed restriction.

    On three occasions late in 2007, Bergman made statements to the couple's counsel that implied that she had ordered an appraisal of the second lot, but she had not yet formally hired an appraiser. Bergman's statement violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which states that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

    The couple subsequently filed a lawsuit against the title company for breach of contract and bad faith in handling their claims. In support of a motion in the lawsuit, Bergman signed an affidavit in April 2008 that stated she did not understand that the insured would claim actual loss as a result of the stipulation in the prior lawsuit. Bergman later admitted in a deposition that she knew that the insured would claim actual loss. Bergman's statement in the affidavit that she did not understand that the insured would claim actual loss violated SCR 20:3.3(a)(1), which states that a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal.

    Bergman had no prior discipline.

    Public reprimand of Ronald Thompson

    The OLR and Ronald Thompson, formerly of Madison, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on Dec. 10, 2012, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).

    In 2010, Thompson subscribed to an Internet-based lawyer referral service and authorized the service to withdraw its monthly fees of $835 or more from his client trust account. Thompson subsequently deposited $3,640 in personal funds to the trust account to cover those monthly fees.

    A man hired Thompson in October 2010 regarding a bankruptcy and paid him $475. Thompson deposited the check to his trust account and subsequently disbursed a $400 check to his landlord and made two online payments, totaling $243.07, to a utility company. These disbursements led to an overdraft, which was covered by funds intended to pay the bankruptcy client's $299 filing fee. The filing fee was returned twice for insufficient funds, but the payment ultimately cleared.

    Thompson denied using his trust account as a personal account, but bank records revealed that he made 24 payments from it, totaling $9,741.48, for expenses that included rent, groceries, telephone bills, utility bills, and referral fees. He also disbursed nine checks to himself, totaling $485, without identifying the purpose or client matter and failed to send invoices to clients before disbursing his fees. In addition, Thompson did not maintain a transaction register or client ledgers and did not reconcile the trust account.

    On Oct. 31, 2010, Thompson's law license was suspended for failure to pay State Bar of Wisconsin dues and Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments. Despite the suspension, he continued representing two clients in bankruptcy matters. He filed a notice of conversion from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7 along with a reaffirmation agreement for one client and prepared a bankruptcy petition for the second client. He failed to inform his clients and the court that his license was administratively suspended.

    Thompson violated the following trust account rules: SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), by failing to hold a bankruptcy client's filing fee in trust; SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), by depositing personal funds into his trust account; SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), by paying personal and business expenses from the account; SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)e.1., by disbursing trust account checks to himself without identifying the client matter and purpose; SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)c., by electronically disbursing funds to his creditors and authorizing third-party withdrawals from the account; SCR 20:1.15(g)(1), by failing to send invoices to clients before withdrawing fees; and SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)a., b., and g., by failing to maintain a transaction register and client ledgers and failing to perform monthly reconciliations.

    In addition, by engaging in the practice of law while suspended, Thompson violated SCR 10.03(6) and SCR 22.26(2), which are enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f). Finally, he violated SCR 22.26 by failing to notify his clients and the bankruptcy court of his administrative suspension.

    Thompson has no prior discipline.

    Public reprimand of Leonard G. Adent

    The OLR and Leonard G. Adent, Pewaukee, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on Dec. 23, 2012, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).

    The reprimand addressed two separate instances of misconduct. The first was Adent's conviction for second-offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) in Fond du Lac County. Adent did not report his conviction to the OLR or the clerk of the supreme court. Adent violated SCR 20:8.4(b) by committing the criminal act of second-offense OWI and SCR 21.15(5) by failing to report his conviction as required.

    In the second matter, Adent failed to provide competent representation to a client in a medical malpractice lawsuit he initiated on the client's behalf. Adent failed to provide timely and proper responses to the defendant's discovery requests, failed to provide timely and proper responses to defense motions for summary judgment and dismissal, and failed to comply with rules of appellate procedure in filing an appendix. Adent violated SCR 20:1.1 by failing to provide competent representation; SCR 20:1.3, by failing to provide diligent representation; SCR 20:3.4(c), by failing to obey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal; and SCR 20:3.4(d), by failing to make a reasonably diligent effort to comply with the defendant's proper discovery requests. In addition, Adent failed to fully answer the OLR's inquiries during the course of the investigation and thereby violated SCR 22.03(6), which is enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).

    Adent has no prior discipline.

    Public reprimand of Paul W. Humphrey

    The OLR and Paul W. Humphrey, Madison, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on Nov. 28, 2012.

    Humphrey is a Dane County assistant district attorney. During a criminal prosecution, in violation of SCR 20:3.4(d) and former SCR 20:3.8(d) (effective before July 1, 2007), Humphrey delayed in providing defense counsel with potentially exculpatory evidence to which the defense was entitled, notwithstanding defense counsel's repeated specific requests for the evidence.

    Humphrey previously received a 30-day license suspension, effective May 7, 2012, for misconduct in a separate criminal prosecution.