Vol. 80, No. 6, June 2007
Public reprimand of William J. Grogan
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and William J. Grogan, Appleton, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on April 13, 2007, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
In violation of SCR 20:8.4(f), Grogan failed to timely file his state and federal income tax returns for tax years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005. Grogan also was tardy in filing quarterly withholding tax returns on approximately 32 occasions. See, e.g., Disciplinary Proceedings Against Owens, 172 Wis. 2d 54, 492 N.W.2d 157 (1992) (failure to file income tax returns constitutes professional misconduct). See also Disciplinary Proceedings Against Haley, 136 Wis. 2d 87, 401 N.W.2d 169 (1987).
In violation of SCR 22.03(2), Grogan failed to respond to the OLR's initial inquiry regarding this matter for almost two months; he responded only after being personally served with a request that he do so.
In violation of SCR 22.03(6), Grogan failed to provide the OLR with certain specific information requested in the course of the investigation.
Grogan has no prior discipline.
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Public reprimand of John H. Wolf
The OLR and John H. Wolf, Waukesha, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on April 10, 2007, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3). The public reprimand stemmed from two matters.
On Oct. 16, 2004, the Pewaukee Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance call placed by Wolf. The incident led to charges being filed against Wolf for misdemeanor disorderly conduct (domestic violence related). See State v. Wolf, Waukesha County case no. 2004CM3292, filed Oct. 25, 2004. The state deferred for 12 months prosecution on the disorderly conduct charge. During the deferment period, the OLR received evidence of new misconduct.
On June 9, 2006, police went to Wolf's apartment after a maintenance man reported that Wolf was acting strangely and had fired shots into the attic. On checking Wolf's residence, the police found a spent shell casing in his living room and a bullet hole in the ceiling. A second round was found along the wall. Tenants were present in other apartments at the time of the shooting. The incident led to charges being filed against Wolf for felony second degree reckless endangerment (use of a dangerous weapon) and misdemeanor bail jumping. See State v. Wolf, Waukesha County case no. 2006CF000694, filed June 14, 2006.
On Oct. 12, 2006, pursuant to pleas of no contest, Wolf was convicted of misdemeanor operation of a firearm (with a controlled substance) and disorderly conduct. The bail jumping charge was dismissed and read in. Wolf was placed on probation for 12 months. Sentencing was withheld.
By engaging in acts of disorderly conduct during the Oct. 16, 2004 incident, Wolf violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which states, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."
By engaging in acts leading to a misdemeanor conviction of operation of a firearm (with a controlled substance), Wolfe again violated SCR 20:8.4(b).
Wolf has no prior discipline.
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Public reprimand of Michael C. Hurt
The OLR and Michael C. Hurt, Menomonee Falls, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on April 23, 2007, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3). The public reprimand stemmed from two matters investigated by the OLR.
In the first matter, while working for a law firm, Hurt did not report to the firm all of his clients and fees even though he used firm assets and worked on the cases during routine business hours.
The second matter stemmed from Hurt's handling of client fees when he moved from the first firm to another firm, taking with him a client. Both of the firms were entitled to a portion of the fees paid by the client. Before Hurt's departure from the first firm, he asked his client to send a $3,000 advance to Hurt's home address. Hurt did not deposit the advance into a trust account and instead deposited the advance into his personal household checking account, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(a) (effective through June 30, 2004) and current SCR 20:1.15(b). He used cashier's checks to disburse $1,500 to his then-current firm for future invoices and $323.30 to his former firm to pay an invoice for the client. Hurt kept $1,176.70 in his personal checking account, ostensibly to pay future invoices. Hurt did not inform either firm that he had funds in which they had an interest, in violation of former SCR 20.1.15(b) (effective through June 30, 2004) and current SCR 20:1.15(d)(1). His course of conduct in this matter also violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
During the OLR's investigation of the first matter, Hurt's willful failure to disclose to the OLR his handling of the $3,000 advance constituted violations of SCR 22.03(2) and SCR 22.03(6), which are enforceable under SCR 20:8.4(f).
In both matters, Hurt deprived his firms of the benefit of income and the ability to maintain a proper accounting of client funds. His entire pattern of conduct constituted a breach of his fiduciary duty to his law firms and his duty of honesty in his professional dealings with them in violation of a supreme court decision (Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shea, 190 Wis. 2d 560, 527 N.W.2d 314 (1995)), violating SCR 20:8.4(f).
Hurt had no prior discipline.
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Public reprimand of Arik J. Guenther
The OLR and Arik J. Guenther, Fond du Lac, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on April 9, 2007.
The reprimand involved three client matters. In the first matter, the client paid Guenther $750 for representation in a post-divorce matter, but Guenther failed to accomplish anything substantive in the representation before his law license was suspended for professional misconduct on Aug. 31, 2005. Guenther refunded only $209 of the client's $750 advance fee, requiring the client to file a claim with the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection to receive the balance. By failing to refund an unearned fee on termination of the representation, Guenther violated SCR 20:1.16(d).
In the second and third matters, Guenther undertook representations that he also was unable to conclude before his disciplinary suspension. Guenther failed to notify these clients about his suspension and failed to list the clients on a postsuspension affidavit that he filed with the OLR, contrary to SCR 22.26(1), which is enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f). In the second matter, when the clients contacted him after his suspension date, Guenther failed to respond to the clients' inquiries or timely provide requested file documents, thereby failing to take steps reasonably practicable to protect the clients' interests on termination of the representation, contrary to SCR 20:1.16(d).
In all three matters, Guenther failed to provide timely written responses to the grievances despite multiple requests from the OLR, contrary to SCR 22.03(2).
Guenther's law license was suspended for eight months in 2005 and remains suspended pending the outcome of an ongoing reinstatement proceeding.
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Public reprimand of Eva E. Ritter
The OLR and Eva E. Ritter, Woodbury, Minn., entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on April 23, 2007.
Ritter provided legal representation to, and became friends with, a man who received twice-monthly per capita payments from the St. Croix Indian tribe. When the client was imprisoned, Ritter agreed to manage his funds without charge and send him money as needed. Ritter opened a fiduciary savings account to which most of the per capita payments were electronically deposited. Ritter thereafter failed on several occasions to respond to the client's requests for money; failed to keep any records regarding her handling of his funds; converted two checks to cash and purportedly kept the cash in an envelope; withdrew $5,500 from the fiduciary account and purportedly held it in cash until she redeposited it to the account five months later along with $100 in interest; and purchased a $500 money order for the client that she failed to send to him and instead kept on her desk for more than a year until he was released from prison. Ritter, however, also used her own funds to make certain payments and purchases for the client. On reviewing all available records, the OLR found that if Ritter made all the payments to the client that she claimed to have made, and which the client has neither confirmed nor denied receiving, Ritter paid the client more than $900 of her personal funds. There was no evidence that Ritter misappropriated any funds.
By failing to create and maintain rec-ords such that she was unable to document her handling of fiduciary funds, Ritter violated SCR 20:1.15(e) (pre-July 1, 2004 rule) and SCR 20:1.15(j)(5) (current rule). By holding some of the client's funds in cash rather than in a fiduciary account or trust account, Ritter violated SCR 20:1.15(a) (pre-July 1, 2004 rule) and SCR 20:1.15(j)(1) (current rule). By failing to respond to the client's requests for funds, and by purchasing a money order that she did not give the client for more than a year, Ritter failed to promptly deliver a client's or third party's funds, contrary to SCR 20:1.15(b) (pre-July 1, 2004 rule).
Ritter had no prior discipline.
Public reprimand of John R. Dade
The OLR and John R. Dade, 55, Whitewater, agreed to the imposition of a public reprimand pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on April 16, 2007.
Dade represented a plaintiff in real estate litigation. In violation of SCR 20:1.1, which requires competent representation, Dade did not read the defendants' pleadings thoroughly enough to realize that counterclaims were filed. Dade did not file an answer to the counterclaims, and adverse counsel moved for a default judgment. Dade successfully defended against default judgment, but his client was assessed costs and fees relating to the motion. Dade failed to tell the client that counterclaims had been made and not answered or that costs and fees were assessed against the client until well after the events had occurred, contrary to SCR 20:1.4(a), which requires a lawyer to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the plaintiff's claims. Dade decided not to respond to the summary judgment motion and instead to focus on the defendants' claim of adverse possession. Dade did not discuss the summary judgment motion with the client, contrary to 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.
After the defendants prevailed in the lawsuit, the client paid Dade to file an appeal. Dade filed the notice of appeal but did not pay the filing fee. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of the filing fee and ordered Dade to pay the filing fee. Dade paid the fee and also refunded the money paid by the client for the appeal. Dade told the OLR that after filing the notice of appeal, he could not discern meritorious grounds on which to advance an appeal; however, Dade did not withdraw the appeal or discuss the matter with the client, and Dade waited two months to inform the client that the appeal had been dismissed. In failing to take any appropriate action after he had filed the notice of appeal, including withdrawing the appeal or telling his client that an appeal lacked merit, Dade violated SCR 20:1.3, which requires a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
Public reprimand of Douglas E. Batt
The OLR and Douglas E. Batt, Milwaukee, entered into an agreement for the imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1), conditioned on Batt's attending an OLR seminar on trust account management. A referee appointed by the supreme court thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand, with the agreed-on condition, on April 10, 2007, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
In December 2005, there was an overdraft of about $130 on Batt's client trust account following a cash withdrawal of $150. The overdraft was due to recordkeeping errors made in April and September 2005. Batt did not discover the errors before the overdraft because he was not performing monthly reconciliations, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)g. After the overdraft was discovered, the OLR audited Batt's trust account and discovered that, between April 2005 and March 2006, Batt had routinely deposited earned fees and rent income into his trust account, violating SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), because he had neither a business account, contrary to SCR 20:1.15(e)(8), nor a personal account. The deposits to the trust account included more than $26,000 in State Public Defender checks, $5,405 in rent payments, and a $1,500 loan.
In addition, Batt made 56 cash withdrawals from his trust account, totaling $18,167; took 16 cash withdrawals from deposits to the account, totaling $3,154.44; and disbursed 38 checks, totaling $29,943, which were payable to "Cash," in violation of SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)a. None of the cash disbursements or withdrawals involved funds belonging to clients or third parties. The audit further revealed that Batt had authorized one of his creditors to make three automated withdrawals from the trust account, totaling $666, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)d.
Finally, the audit disclosed several trust account recordkeeping deficiencies. Batt failed to identify the source of any of the deposits to the account in his transaction register, including the deposits that related to client matters. With respect to the transactions relating to two client matters, he failed to identify the client associated with any of the deposits or disbursements, contrary to SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)a. He also failed to regularly reconcile his trust account.
Batt had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary proceeding against Richard J. Martin
On April 17, 2007, the supreme court imposed conditions on the Wisconsin law license of Richard J. Martin, Falmouth, Mass., as discipline reciprocal to a one-year probationary term with conditions imposed on his Michigan law license by the State of Michigan Attorney Disciplinary Board. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Martin, 2007 WI 44.
Martin's Michigan misconduct consisted of failing, in a criminal matter, to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation, in violation of Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4(b), 8.4(a), and 9.104(A)(4).
Martin's State Bar of Wisconsin membership has been continuously suspended since Oct. 31, 1996, for Martin's failure to pay bar dues and since June 2, 1998, for his noncompliance with CLE requirements.
Disciplinary proceeding against Arthur L. Schuh Jr.
By order dated April 19, 2007, the supreme court revoked the law license of Arthur L. Schuh Jr., formerly of Appleton, effective July 27, 2006, based on a stipulation between Schuh and the OLR. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schuh, 2007 WI 43. The court had previously summarily suspended Schuh's license pursuant to SCR 22.20(1) based on his conviction on federal charges of conspiring to distribute a controlled substance and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. According to Schuh's federal plea agreement, Schuh routinely obtained one to three ounces of cocaine from a supplier, used some of it for personal consumption, and distributed the rest to friends and associates. The federal district court sentenced Schuh to 123 months of imprisonment followed by four years of supervised release.
Schuh and the OLR jointly requested that the revocation be deemed to have commenced as of the July 27, 2006, summary suspension date, and the court granted the request. Schuh had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary proceeding against Mark E. Converse
The supreme court suspended the law license of Mark E. Converse, 58, Green Bay, for four months, effective Feb. 23, 2007. Converse was ordered to return fees of approximately $2,800 paid by a client and to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Converse, 2007 WI 42. The suspension runs consecutively to a one-year suspension previously imposed by the court.
The OLR and Converse entered a stipulation whereby he agreed to having committed five counts of misconduct relating to his postconviction representation of a client: 1) by failing to timely seek sentence relief or pursue corrections to a presentence report, Converse failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3; 2) by failing to contact the client for lengthy periods and by failing to respond to the client's requests for information, Converse failed to keep a 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); 3) Converse made a misrepresentation in a disclosure to the OLR, contrary to SCR 20:8.4(f) and 22.03(6); and 4) Converse committed two additional counts of failing to cooperate with the OLR's investigation.
Converse's disciplinary history consists of public reprimands in 1985 and 1992, a 60-day suspension in 1994, a 90-day suspension in 2004, and a one-year suspension, effective Feb. 23, 2006.
Disciplinary proceeding against James T. Winch
On April 19, 2007, the supreme court suspended the law license of James T. Winch, Mazomanie, for one year, effective May 31, 2007, adopting a stipulation entered into by Winch and the OLR. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Winch, 2007 WI 41.
The suspension was based on multiple trust account violations. Several violations related to Winch's representation of a client regarding a divorce, the sale of a farm, and an eviction. During those representations, which spanned approximately 10 years, Winch converted at least $6,524.40 in proceeds from the sale of the farm, violating SCR 20:8.4(c). In addition, Winch failed to hold in trust other funds belonging to the client. At one point, there was a shortfall of at least $12,719.58 in the funds that should have been in trust for the client, violating former SCR 20:1.15(a) (effective through June 30, 2004) and current SCR 20:1.15(b)(1).
Between January 1996 and February 2005, Winch disbursed at least $6,195.18 to himself for fees without the client's authorization, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(f) relating to the standard for withdrawing fees from trust established in Disciplinary Proceedings Against Marine. In addition, Winch disbursed $1,500 to himself for fees, without written notice to the client, violating current SCR 20:1.15(g)(3).
In January 2005, Winch deposited $20,000 of personal funds into his trust account, and in July 2005, he deposited $6,000.18 in earned fees into the account, violating SCR 20:1.15(b)(3). A portion of these funds were used to reimburse the client for the conversions and unauthorized fee disbursements.
The OLR's audit of Winch's trust account revealed that Winch failed to hold at least $1,985.58 in trust belonging to 13 additional clients, violating former SCR 20:1.15(a) (effective through June 30, 2004) and current SCR 20:1.15(b)(1); that Winch had not maintained a running balance in his trust account transaction register, violating SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)a.; that he had not recorded disbursements in the client ledgers, violating SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)b.; and that he had not reconciled the account each month, violating SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)g.
Finally, after having informed the OLR in February 2006 of his conversion of funds belonging to the client, Winch failed to respond to the OLR's repeated requests during the following seven months for information about his conversions, violating SCR 20:8.4(f) (relating to the requirements of SCR 22.03(6)).
Winch had been privately reprimanded in 1992 for unrelated misconduct.