Vol. 77, No. 5, May
Private Reprimand Summaries
Supreme Court permits the Office
of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), to publish, for educational purposes, in
an official State Bar publication a summary of facts and professional
conduct rule violations in matters in which the OLR imposed private
reprimands. The summaries do not disclose information identifying the
The following summaries of selected private reprimands, imposed by
the OLR, are printed to help attorneys avoid similar misconduct
problems. Some of the summaries may indicate violations of the rules
that were in effect prior to Jan. 1, 1988. The current rules proscribe
the same types of misconduct.
Under the new rules of lawyer regulation, a court-appointed referee
will impose private reprimands with consent of the attorney. See SCR
Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or
Violation of SCR 20:8.4(c)
In January 1997, an attorney with the respondent attorney's law
office met with a man and his wife. The couple wanted a deed that would
convey their property to the man's adult daughter, while reserving for
themselves a life estate. That attorney prepared a quitclaim deed and a
real estate transfer tax return.
In February 1997, both the man and the wife executed the deed, and
the respondent attorney signed the transfer tax return as the agent for
both the grantors (the couple). At the request of the clients, the
respondent attorney signed the transfer tax return as the agent for the
grantee (the man's adult daughter). The deed was recorded.
Neither the respondent attorney nor the man or his wife told the
man's daughter about the quitclaim deed. In early 2002, the daughter
inadvertently learned that the quitclaim deed had been executed and
After the man's death in early 2002, the daughter filed a grievance,
alleging in part that the respondent attorney acted as her agent without
her knowledge or consent. The respondent attorney said the transfer by
quitclaim deed was to be a gift from the man to his daughter, and that
his clients had authorized him to sign the transfer tax return on their
behalf and on the daughter's behalf. The respondent attorney stated that
the couple wanted to keep the conveyance confidential to avoid any
family discord. Both the respondent attorney and the daughter agree that
the respondent attorney was never the daughter's attorney.
Above the grantor and grantee signature lines on the transfer tax
return appear the words: "CERTIFICATION. We declare under penalty of
law, that this return has been examined by us and to the best of our
knowledge and belief it is true, correct, and complete."
By signing a legal document certifying he was acting as agent of the
grantee when in fact he had no such authorization to do so, the
respondent attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
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Scope of Representation; Safekeeping Property
Violation of SCR 20:1.2(a) and 20:1.15(d)
In October 1997, the client retained the respondent attorney to
represent him in a personal injury action resulting from an incident
that occurred in September 1997. The case was scheduled for a mediation
session in June 2001, which the client did not attend. Opposing counsel
made a tentative offer to settle the case for $45,000. The respondent
attorney only had two days in which to accept the offer.
The respondent attorney and the client had a lengthy telephone call
the day opposing counsel made the offer, but the client did not accept
the offer that day. The respondent attorney asserted that he also spoke
with the client several times the following day, and claimed that he
received approval of the settlement offer sometime on that day. The
respondent attorney sent opposing counsel a letter on that date stating
that the client accepted the settlement terms, but he did not send a
copy of this letter to the client. The client denies ever accepting the
In July 2001, opposing counsel sent the respondent attorney a
stipulation, releases, and a settlement check made payable only to the
respondent attorney's trust account, as per the respondent attorney's
request. The respondent attorney deposited the settlement check into his
trust account about two weeks later. The client refused to accept the
settlement and would not sign any releases.
Opposing counsel filed with the court a motion to compel settlement.
At a hearing about a week later, the respondent attorney's previously
filed motion to withdraw was denied, and the settlement was enforced by
After the hearing during which the court had enforced the settlement,
the respondent attorney paid himself $10,000 toward his attorney fees
and paid his expenses. He also paid subrogated parties. The client hired
a new attorney, who met with the respondent attorney and purportedly
informed him that the client was disputing the respondent attorney's
fees, and in light of the dispute, the client wanted the money from the
respondent attorney's trust account forwarded to his new attorney's
trust account. In September 2001, the respondent attorney forwarded more
than $15,000 to the client's new attorney's trust account; however, the
respondent attorney retained $5,000 in his own trust account. The
client's new attorney wrote to the respondent attorney informing him
that until the client gives his consent or a court order is made
awarding the funds as and for his attorney fees, the funds were not his
In November 2001, the respondent attorney paid himself the remaining
$5,000 for his fees. The respondent attorney settled the client's
personal injury suit without proper authority from the client to do so,
contrary to SCR 20:1.2(a). The respondent attorney paid himself the
final $5,000 of his fee for legal services from settlement proceeds held
in trust, when he knew the trust account funds held by him were in
dispute, contrary to SCR 20:1.15(d). The respondent attorney had no
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Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate
Violation of SCR 20:1.3 and 1.4(a)
A woman's spouse died in October 2000. At the time of the man's
death, he had a trust that left his half-interest in his real estate and
all of his "personal property" to his wife. The man had two grown
children from his previous marriage and these children were named as
cotrustees of his trust.
A dispute arose between the wife and the children of the deceased man
as cotrustees of the trust. Therefore, in November 2000, the wife met
with the respondent attorney, and he agreed to represent the wife in
protecting her interests.
The children's attorney sent the respondent attorney a letter in
August 2001, to confirm with the respondent attorney that he had no
problem with how the children's attorney wanted to interpret "personal
There is no dispute that the respondent attorney received this
letter, and that he did not respond to it. Further, the respondent
attorney received phone messages from the children's attorney on four
separate dates in late September and early October 2001. Finally, in
early October 2001, the children's attorney wrote to the respondent
attorney stating that because he had not heard from the respondent
attorney, he could only assume that the respondent attorney had no
objection to proceeding with the administration of the trust in the
manner that the attorney had proposed in his August 2001 letter.
In January 2002, the children's attorney informed the respondent
attorney by letter that the assets of the trust had been transferred as
proposed in his August 2001 letter. Five days later, the wife terminated
the respondent attorney's representation and picked up her file. It was
at this time that she first learned of the children's attorney's letters
and the administration of the trust.
There are a large number of documented emails and letters that the
wife sent the respondent attorney from the time he commenced
representation in November 2000 until he was terminated in January 2002.
The wife received three letters from the respondent attorney over the
course of the representation, but none of the letters addressed any of
the wife's concerns. The letters generally requested meetings with the
The respondent attorney had conversations with the children and their
previous attorneys to try to settle the matter; however, he did not
adequately communicate this to the wife. The respondent attorney also
admitted not responding to any of the children's attorney's letters or
phone calls, nor did he discuss with the wife the contents of the
By failing to respond to the children's attorney's inquiries or
otherwise acting for the purpose of interpreting the trust language, the
respondent attorney violated SCR 20:1.3. Further, by failing to
communicate to the wife the status of the case, failing to respond to
her inquiries, and failing to inform her of the children's attorney's
letters and attempts to interpret the trust language, the respondent
attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a). The respondent attorney had no prior
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Failure to Communicate
Violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)
The respondent attorney represented a woman in her post-divorce child
custody dispute. The representation began in July 2000.
In January 2001, the court-appointed guardian ad litem spoke to the
respondent attorney's client by phone and advised the woman specifically
as to what documents and information the guardian ad litem would need
for representation of the child. In February 2001, the court ordered
that the woman had to provide certain information about the child by
March 8, 2001, and that she had to meet with the guardian ad litem and
provide certain other information by May 1, 2001. The hearing date was
changed as well from March 2001 to June 2001. There is no documentation
that shows that the respondent attorney ever provided the scheduling
order or the dates therein to the woman. The respondent attorney and the
woman did communicate by telephone sometime around late February 2001,
and the woman acknowledged that the respondent did indicate some
deadlines to her at that time.
The respondent attorney received letters from both the guardian ad
litem and from opposing counsel between late February 2001 and mid-March
2001, reminding the respondent attorney that her client needed to
provide certain information by the specific dates. The next
communication between the respondent attorney and the woman, however,
was not until April 2001, when they discussed the change in court dates.
The guardian ad litem sent another letter on April 11, 2001, and the
woman faxed certain information to the respondent attorney in late April
2001. The respondent attorney forwarded that information to the guardian
ad litem and opposing counsel; however, that information apparently was
In early May 2001, the opposing attorney filed a notice of motion and
motion for sanctions for the woman's failure to comply with the court
scheduling order. The respondent attorney spoke with the woman on May 3
and May 7, 2001, attempting to resolve the custody case. The woman also
spoke with the guardian ad litem on May 7, 2001, and it was from the
guardian ad litem that the woman first learned of the motion for
sanctions. The court found the woman in contempt at the hearing in May
2001, and assessed $602.50 in attorney fees in favor of the woman's
former spouse. The woman eventually paid this amount to the opposing
attorney. The day after the hearing, the respondent attorney signed a
motion to withdraw. The court signed an order about a week later
permitting the respondent attorney to withdraw. The child custody case
subsequently was resolved.
Because the respondent attorney failed to notify the woman of the
scheduling order and specific deadline dates and also failed to notify
the woman of the impending hearing on the motion for sanctions, the
respondent attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a). The respondent attorney had
no prior discipline.
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Committing a Criminal Act; Engaging in Probate Neglect
Violations of SCR 20:8.4(b), 20:1.3, and 22.03(6)
In May 2002, an attorney was convicted of battery, contrary to Wis.
Stat. section 940.19(1), a Class A misdemeanor, and was sentenced to two
years on probation with conditions. When the attorney's probation agent
subsequently brought proceedings to revoke probation, the attorney
elected to refuse probation and complete a jail sentence instead. In
committing an act that led to his conviction for battery, the attorney
violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which states it is professional misconduct for
an attorney to "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the
lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other
In an unrelated matter, the same attorney was hired to probate an
estate. The attorney opened an informal estate in March 2000. The
attorney failed to file an inventory until January 2002, despite having
received a notice from the court. The attorney attributed the delay to
an illness that the attorney was suffering and personal problems. In
taking approximately 22 months to file an inventory and in failing to
proceed with completion of the estate in a timely manner, the attorney
violated SCR 20:1.3, which requires a lawyer to act with reasonable
diligence and promptness in representing a client. During the
investigation of the grievance involving the estate, the attorney failed
to respond to two letters from the OLR staff, in violation of SCR
22.03(6), which provides that an attorney's willful failure to provide
relevant information or answer questions fully is misconduct.
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Communication with Party Represented by Counsel
Violation of SCR 20:4.2
An attorney's associate represented a mother in a custody dispute.
The father in the custody dispute also was represented by counsel. A
temporary order was issued on March 28, 2002, relating to the custody
and placement of the parties' minor child.
On Friday evening, Aug. 16, 2002, the mother traveled from her home
to the father's home several hours away to pick up her child for his
weekend visitation with her. When the mother arrived at the father's
home, no one answered the door, but the mother believed someone was
inside. At approximately 7 p.m. the mother called her attorney's law
office from a pay phone to speak with her attorney, the associate. The
attorney's associate was not in, but the attorney answered the phone and
spoke with the mother. The attorney knew that his associate represented
the mother, and also knew that the father was represented by another
In an effort to "facilitate the startup of visitation for that
weekend" and to establish communication between the mother and the
father, the attorney placed two three-party calls to the father's
telephone number and both times left messages on the father's answering
machine. The attorney conveyed information regarding visitation in both
In between the two messages left on the father's answering machine,
the attorney called the residence of the father's father and left a
message on that answering machine as well.
The father's attorney did not authorize the attorney's contact with
the father. The attorney did not attempt to contact the father's
attorney before making the telephone calls to the father and the
father's father and leaving messages on their answering machines.
By leaving messages on the father's answering machine when he knew
that the father was an adverse party represented by counsel, the
attorney knowingly communicated about the subject of the representation
with a party he knew to be represented by a lawyer without that lawyer's
consent, in violation of SCR 20:4.2.
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Lack of Diligence in Criminal Appeal; Failure to Comply with Court
Orders; Failure to Respond to the OLR
Violations of SCR 1.3, 20:1.16(d), 20:3.4(c), and 22.03(2)
In September 2001, a man retained an attorney to pursue
post-conviction relief concerning the man's criminal conviction in
circuit court; the man's family paid the attorney $4,000. After
discussions between the attorney and the man about the case, the
decision was made to file an appeal.
In January 2002, the attorney filed a notice of intent to pursue
post-conviction relief with the circuit court. In May 2002, the attorney
filed a motion to extend time to file a post-conviction motion or notice
of appeal with the court of appeals. The court of appeals granted the
motion and extended the time for the filing of a post-conviction motion
or appeal to the end of June 2002. The attorney filed a notice of appeal
at the end of June 2002. On July 25, 2002, the court of appeals ordered
that the statement on the transcript be filed no later than Aug. 9,
In September 2002, the man sent the attorney a letter in which he
stated that he was firing the attorney because he had not filed a brief
in his case or requested an extension of time in which to file the brief
and had not filed a statement on the transcript. The man also requested
a refund and a copy of his file. Around the same time, the court of
appeals also received a letter from the man in which the man indicated
that he wanted to discharge the attorney and proceed pro se due to the
attorney's failure to timely file the statement on the transcript and
The court of appeals ordered the attorney to provide an explanation
to the court by the end of September 2002 regarding the attorney's
failure to timely file a brief in the man's case. The court stated in
its order that even though the attorney had indicated in a pre-appeal
motion that the transcripts had already been filed, the attorney still
should have filed a statement on the transcript in compliance with
appellate rules after
the appeal was filed. The court noted that the attorney's failure to
file the statement on the transcript had no adverse effect on the man.
The attorney did not provide an explanation to the court as ordered.
At the end of September 2002, the man sent the attorney a letter
again requesting a copy of his file. Two weeks later, the attorney
provided a refund in the amount of $4,000 to the man's father. In
correspondence sent with the refund, the attorney stated that he would
provide a copy of the man's file to successor counsel once the man's
father notified the attorney of the name of successor counsel. On Nov.
14, 2002, the man's father picked up the man's file from the attorney's
In October 2002, the court of appeals again ordered the attorney to
provide an explanation by the end of October 2002 regarding his failure
to file a brief. The court stated that if the attorney did not provide
the explanation as ordered, it would set a date for the attorney to show
cause why he should not be held in contempt of court. The attorney did
not provide an explanation to the court as ordered.
At the beginning of November 2002, the court of appeals removed the
attorney as counsel of record for the man and granted the man an
extension until the end of December to file his brief. The court ordered
the attorney to appear before the court to show cause why he should not
be held in contempt of court. The attorney did not appear before the
court as ordered, and the court of appeals issued a bench warrant for
the attorney. The court ordered that the attorney would be released upon
the payment of $500.
On Dec. 5, 2002, the OLR staff mailed a copy of the man's grievance
to the attorney and informed him that, pursuant to SCR 22.03(2), he was
required to provide a written response on or before Dec. 20, 2002 that
fully and fairly disclosed all facts and circumstances pertaining to the
alleged misconduct. The letter further advised the attorney of his duty
to cooperate with the OLR investigation under SCR 21.15(4),
22.001(9)(b), 22.03(2), and 22.03(6). No response was received from the
On Jan. 3, 2003, the OLR staff sent a follow-up letter to the
attorney by first-class mail and certified mail reminding the attorney
of his duty to cooperate and advising him that SCR 22.03(4) authorized
the OLR director to file a motion with the Wisconsin Supreme Court
seeking the suspension of the attorney's license for willful
noncooperation. The letter requested that the attorney's written
response to the grievance be submitted to the OLR no later than Jan. 13,
2003. No response was received from the attorney.
On Jan. 15, 2003, the OLR staff sent a third letter to the attorney
by first-class mail, certified mail, and personal service. The letter
informed the attorney that in order to avoid being subject to a motion
filed pursuant to SCR 22.03(4), his written response to the grievance
had to be filed with the OLR by Jan. 22, 2003. The attorney was
personally served with the letter at his office on Jan. 15, 2003. On
Jan. 24, 2003, the attorney called the OLR staff and requested an
extension of time in which to file his response. Staff granted an
extension to Jan. 29, 2003. On Jan. 28, 2003, staff received a phone
call from counsel for the attorney who stated that he had been retained
by the attorney.
In early February 2003, the attorney mailed a letter of apology to
the court of appeals and enclosed a $500 check. The court of appeals
vacated the bench warrant and sanctioned the attorney in the amount of
$500 in costs for his failure to respond to its orders. The court
accepted the respondent's $500 check as payment for the sanction.
By failing to file a statement on the transcript, and by failing to
file a brief in the man's case or request an extension of time in which
to file the brief, the attorney failed to act with reasonable diligence
and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3.
By failing to file a motion to withdraw as the man's counsel, the
attorney failed to take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to
protect his client's interests, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(d).
By failing to comply with the orders from the court of appeals, the
attorney knowingly disobeyed obligations under the rules of a tribunal,
in violation of SCR 20:3.4(c).
By failing to respond to the OLR staff's letters of Dec. 5, 2002, and
Jan. 3, 2003, until after receiving a third request that was personally
served on the attorney on Jan. 15, 2003, the attorney failed to fully
and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to the
alleged misconduct within 20 days after being served by ordinary mail
with a request for a written response, in violation of SCR 22.03(2).
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Failure to Promptly Deliver Funds to a Third Party; Failure to
Cooperate in a Landlord/Tenant Matter
Violations of SCR 20:1.15(b) and 22.03(6)
An attorney was retained to represent a landlord in an action against
Tenant A and Tenant B, who had broken their lease. Tenant B agreed to a
payment plan, and judgment was entered against Tenant A only. Both
tenants began making payments to the landlord via the attorney. Four
months later, in response to a phone inquiry, the attorney sent Tenant
A's husband a letter stating that a large portion of the judgment and
additional attorney fees were still owing.
Tenant B stopped making payments and the landlord commenced a wage
garnishment action against him. The attorney did not represent the
landlord in this matter. All wage garnishment payments went directly to
Five months later, the attorney informed Tenant A's husband that the
same amount was still owed. He remitted that amount to the attorney that
same month. After becoming aware of the garnishment payments the
landlord was receiving, the attorney realized they had over-collected.
The attorney totaled the original judgment, a docketing fee,
post-judgment attorney fees, the garnishment action filing fee, and
interest related to the garnishment action, divided that total in two,
subtracted the amount each tenant had paid, and issued refunds
The attorney received the statutorily allowed attorney fees as part
of the judgment and conceded that it was im-proper to collect further
attorney fees. The attorney also conceded that it was improper to
collect from Tenant A the filing fee and interest related to the wage
garnishment action against Tenant B.
During the course of the investigation, the attorney twice failed to
respond to the OLR staff's request for further information until being
personally served with requests to do so.
By failing to return to the tenants those monies he was not entitled
to receive, the attorney failed to promptly deliver to a third person
any funds the third person is entitled to receive, in violation of SCR
20:1.15(b). By failing to respond to staff's requests for information,
the attorney failed, during the course of an investigation, to provide
relevant information, in violation of SCR 22.03(6).
As a condition of the reprimand, the attorney was ordered to
reimburse both tenants. The attorney had no prior discipline.
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Conflict of Interest; Failure to Expedite Litigation
Violation of SCR 20:1.7(a) and 20:3.2
In September 2000, a couple retained the respondent attorney to
represent them in the sale of their home.
The clients' property consisted of two lots: one contained a
residence, and the other was vacant. Relying on a title insurance
commitment, the respondent attorney used both lots as the legal
description and performed a real estate tax proration calculation based
on the previous year's real estate taxes for both lots. The clients had
intended to keep the vacant lot and sell only the lot containing the
At the closing, the husband noticed the legal description error and
informed the respondent attorney that only Lot 2 was to be sold. The
respondent attorney corrected the legal description on all the closing
documents, but he did not recalculate the real estate tax proration.
Sometime after the closing, the husband realized that the real estate
tax proration was not correct. He contacted the respondent attorney and
the owner of the title company to ask them to correct the problem. When
the husband did not get a response, he filed a small claims action
against the respondent attorney and the title company seeking judgment
for $271. Another attorney represented the husband in the small claims
At a hearing in July 2001 the respondent attorney made an acceptable
offer of settlement. At the respondent attorney's request, the terms of
the settlement were not put on the record. The court directed that the
settlement be put in writing as a stipulation for dismissal.
The husband's attorney forwarded to the respondent attorney a
proposed judgment on stipulation. The respondent attorney then sent a
letter to opposing counsel, which stated that after consultation with
his client, the defendants in the case would not accept the stipulation
previously discussed in this action, and since the stipulation was not
dictated into the record, there could be no judgment entered.
The hearing was reconvened in October 2001, before the same court
commissioner. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court commissioner
found that the respondent attorney's not putting the stipulation on the
record was done to delay the case. The court commissioner ruled in favor
of the husband and awarded him the judgment amount and actual attorney
fees and other costs.
The respondent attorney has satisfied that judgment.
By representing himself and the title company in a small claims case
in which both were defendants and the main issue in the case was
liability for the failure to correct a real estate tax proration, the
attorney represented a client when the representation may have been
limited by his own interests, contrary to SCR 20:1.7(b). In reaching a
stipulated settlement with the opposing party, avoiding having that
stipulation read into the record, and later refusing to sign a written
stipulation thus requiring the opposing party to continue the hearing,
the attorney failed to make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation,
contrary to SCR 20:3.2.
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Lack of Diligence; Lack of Communication; Duties upon Termination of
Violation of SCR 20:1.3, 20:1.4(a), and 20:1.16(d)
The respondent attorney represented a client who was injured in March
1997. The client pursued a worker's compensation claim, but the
Department of Workforce Development (DWD) denied the client's request
for surgery. The client retained the respondent attorney in August 1997
to pursue an appeal of the decision.
The attorney sent the hearing application to the DWD in August 1997.
The attorney had no further contact with the client prior to January
The client sent a letter to the attorney in January 2003, informing
him that he was fired from her case. The client also requested in this
correspondence that the attorney send her copies of all the information
he had in her file within the next 10 days.
In July 2003, the attorney sent the client materials that he
generated or received relative to her claim for injuries and did not
contest the client's assertions that he had not returned her calls. The
attorney had not done anything on the case since 1997.
By failing to pursue the client's appeal after he sent the hearing
application to the DWD, the attorney failed to act with reasonable
diligence and promptness in representing a client, contrary to SCR
20:1.3. In failing to have contact with the client after their initial
conference until January 2003, the attorney did not keep the client
reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply
with reasonable requests for information, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a).
By failing to provide the client's file to her until six months after
she terminated his representation and requested her file, the attorney
violated SCR 20:1.16(d).
The attorney was privately reprimanded in January 1999 for violations
SCR 20:1.7(b) and 20:1.3.
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Incompetent Representation; Neglect; Failure to Communicate;
Violations of SCR 20:1.1, 20:1.3, 20:1.4(a), (b), and 20:8.4(c)
An attorney was hired as successor counsel to represent a plaintiff
in a pending law suit regarding a real estate transaction. The attorney
was inexperienced in civil litigation. When the attorney undertook the
case, the plaintiff's answers to interrogatories were overdue.
The plaintiff delivered answers to the interrogatories to the
attorney, but the attorney failed to produce the answers for adverse
counsel, even after their warning that they would move to dismiss if the
answers were not forthcoming. The court issued a notice rescheduling the
time (not the date) of an approaching pretrial conference, but the
plaintiff's attorney did not note the time change when he received the
court's notice. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based upon the
plaintiff's failure to prosecute the case. The plaintiff's attorney
claims not to have received a copy of the motion prior to the pretrial
The court held the pretrial conference at the newly scheduled time,
but no one appeared for the plaintiff. The court granted the defendants'
motion to dismiss with prejudice. The attorney and the plaintiff
subsequently arrived at court at the previously scheduled time and were
told that the case had been dismissed. The attorney told the plaintiff
that he would try to find an explanation for what had occurred.
The attorney could have filed a motion to reopen the case but he did
not do so. The attorney did not initiate any contact with the plaintiff
for three months, although the plaintiff or her husband contacted the
attorney four times during that time. The attorney initially told the
plaintiff that he would instruct his secretary to send a letter of
inquiry to the court. During later calls, the attorney stated that he
had written to the court and was awaiting the court's response. In fact,
the attorney had not written to the court.
The attorney met personally with the plaintiff three months after the
case was dismissed and admitted that he had taken no action to reopen
the case. The attorney's firm voluntarily made the plaintiff financially
whole by paying the plaintiff an amount in excess of the amount of the
plaintiff's original claim plus the retainer that the plaintiff had paid
to the firm.
The attorney failed to provide competent representation as required
by SCR 20:1.1. The attorney also violated SCR 20:1.3, which requires a
lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a
client. The attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a), which requires a lawyer to
keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a case and
promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, and SCR
20:1.4(b), which requires a lawyer to explain a matter to the extent
reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions
regarding the representation. Finally, the lawyer violated SCR
20:8.4(c), which provides it is misconduct for a lawyer to engage in
conduct involving misrepresentation.
The reprimand is conditioned upon the attorney's attendance of at
least six hours of CLE in the areas of pretrial practice or litigation
within one year of signing the agreement. The attorney had no prior
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Failure to Disclose a Fact to a Tribunal to Avoid Assisting a
Client's Criminal or Fraudulent Act; Misrepresentation by Omission
Violations of SCR 20:3.3(a)(2) and 20:8.4(c)
A woman retained an attorney to represent her in her divorce.
Opposing counsel had filed a petition for divorce, which stated that one
child, age 19, had been born to the parties to the marriage. Contrary to
Wis. Stat. section 767.085(1)(b), which requires that a divorce petition
state each minor child of the parties and each other child born to the
wife during the marriage, the petition did not disclose that another
child, age 3, had been born during the marriage. The attorney states
that during his representation of the wife, he was not aware of the
requirement that the petition identify each child born to the wife
during the marriage.
Prior to the attorney drafting the marital settlement agreement and
the findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment of divorce, his
client told him that there was no possibility that the young child was
her husband's child. She indicated that she would not identify the
child's father, because she considered him to be a threat and she would
sit in jail before she would identify him.
The parties subsequently entered into successful settlement
negotiations and signed the marital settlement agreement drafted by the
attorney. The marital settlement agreement did not disclose the
existence of the young child.
The court entered the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and
judgment of divorce, as drafted by the attorney. The divorce judgment
stated that one child, the 19-year-old, was born to the parties and that
no other minor children were born to the marriage.
Prior to drafting the divorce judgment, the attorney reviewed Wis.
Stat. sections 767.07 and 767.24, which require that the divorce
judgment identify any minor child of the parties or any child of the
marriage. The attorney also learned that there was a rebuttable
presumption that the young child was the husband's child. The attorney
stated that he made certain that the documents he drafted were factually
truthful and in compliance with Wis. Stat. sections 767.07 and 767.24,
and indicates that the young child was not disclosed in these documents
because he believed the child was not a child of the parties or a child
of the marriage.
During the final hearing, the attorney conducted the following direct
examination of his client:
Q. And have you had an opportunity to read the summons and
Q. Was the information contained in the petition true and
Later in the hearing, opposing counsel conducted the following
cross-examination of the wife:
Q. ...there was only one child born?
Q. [The 19-year-old] is now liberated?
The attorney did not take any measures to correct his client's false
testimony that everything in the summons and petition was true and
correct nor did he take any measures to correct his client's false
testimony that only one child was born during the marriage.
Later, the wife applied for medical assistance for herself and the
young child. The child support agency filed a motion to reopen the
divorce judgment because the judgment did not address the young child
who had been born during the marriage and because the ex-husband was
presumed to be the father.
At a court hearing held on the motion to reopen, the wife stated that
her young child was born during her marriage and that her attorney was
aware of the existence of her young child prior to the entry of the
divorce judgment. After several court hearings, her ex-husband was
ordered by the court to pay for the young child's health insurance.
By failing to disclose to the court in the marital settlement
agreement and findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment that
his client gave birth to another child during the marriage, and by
failing to disclose to the court at the final hearing that his client
gave birth to another child during the marriage, the attorney failed to
disclose a fact to a tribunal when disclosure was necessary to avoid
assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by his client and engaged in
conduct involving misrepresentation by omission, in violation of SCR
20:3.3(a)(2) and 20:8.4(c).
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Communication with Represented Party
Violation of SCR 20:4.2
A woman was charged with several felony counts. After the charges
were scheduled for trial, the prosecutor informed the woman's defense
counsel of another criminal referral on the woman. The prosecutor also
discussed a potential plea agreement settlement of the pending charges
and of the new referral.
Without her attorney's knowledge, the woman subsequently contacted
law enforcement and offered to make a controlled drug buy in
consideration of the pending charges. Also without her attorney's
knowledge, the woman approached the prosecutor in a public place and
engaged the prosecutor in a conversation relating to the pending
criminal charges. The woman was still represented by defense counsel.
The conversation with the prosecutor lasted 10 minutes and related to
the plea offer and other matters. Following the conversation, the
prosecutor faxed a letter to the woman's defense counsel, describing the
discussion that the prosecutor had had with the woman.
The woman's defense counsel sought to have the prosecutor
disqualified from the case, but the court denied the defense motion. The
court allowed the defense counsel to withdraw, because the woman would
not follow her counsel's advice.
In speaking to a represented party regarding her pending case without
the consent of her attorney, the prosecutor violated SCR 20:4.2, which
states that in representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate
about the subject of the representation with a party the lawyer knows to
be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has
the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized by law to do so.
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