Vol. 80, No. 9, September 2007
Disciplinary Proceedings against Daniel R. Grade
On July 24, 2007, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revoked the law license of Daniel R. Grade, Wauwatosa. The court also ordered Grade to pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceeding and as a condition of reinstatement to provide a full accounting to each client listed in the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) complaint and to reimburse any unearned fees to his clients. Disciplinary Proceedings against Grade, 2007 WI 108.
Grade was admitted to the State Bar of Wisconsin in May 1993 and practiced law in Wisconsin through June 2004, when his law license was administratively suspended for Grade's failure to report mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements. In August 2004, Grade's license was temporarily suspended for failure to cooperate with two OLR grievance investigations. His license remained suspended at the time the court entered its revocation order.
Grade essentially abandoned his practice, consequently neglecting numerous probate matters in violation of SCR 20:1.3 and failing to communicate with his clients in those matters in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a). Grade also made misrepresentations to clients in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c) and failed to return funds owed to clients in violation of SCR 20:1.16(d) and former SCR 20:1.15(b). Grade did not provide to the OLR records of his trust account and failed to cooperate with investigations in several matters. This conduct violated former SCR 20:1.15(f) and SCR 22.03(6), which is enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f).
Following a disciplinary hearing, Grade stipulated that he had committed the 36 professional misconduct violations alleged in the OLR's complaint. The referee issued a report finding that all counts had been proved. The referee noted that Grade had breached his fiduciary duties to his clients, the court, and the OLR by abandoning his practice without notifying his clients or the courts and that a receiver had to be appointed to take over Grade's practice, pursuant to SCR 12.03(2).
During the disciplinary proceeding, Grade introduced evidence that he suffered from depression. He offered the evidence to establish his medical condition as a factor mitigating his misconduct. The referee determined that the evidence did not show a causal connection between Grade's medical condition and his misconduct.
The court adopted the referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law and determined that the revocation of Grade's license was necessary to protect the public, the court, and the legal system from the repetition of misconduct and to deter other attorneys from engaging in misconduct.
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Disciplinary Proceedings against Edward James FitzGerald
On July 27, 2007, the supreme court suspended the law license of Edward James FitzGerald, Franklin, for 90 days effective Aug. 31, 2007. The court also ordered FitzGerald to pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceedings. Disciplinary Proceedings against FitzGerald, 2007 WI 111.
FitzGerald was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in June 1982 and, at times material to this disciplinary proceeding, practiced law as an assistant district attorney for Vilas County.
FitzGerald failed to pay his annual State Bar dues and assessments that were due on July 1, 2003. As a result, on Oct. 31, 2003, his law license was administratively suspended. FitzGerald received timely notifications of the impending and actual suspension of his license. FitzGerald did not notify the Vilas County district attorney, the Vilas County circuit court, or opposing counsel of his suspension.
In addition, FitzGerald failed to report his CLE attendance at the end of his two-year reporting period in December 2004. Therefore, on June 7, 2005, FitzGerald's license also was suspended for failure to comply with mandatory CLE obligations. Again, FitzGerald received timely notifications of the impending and actual suspension of his license.
FitzGerald practiced law without a valid license until June 10, 2005. He appeared as the prosecutor of record in approximately 85 felony cases, 200 misdemeanor cases, 121 criminal traffic cases, and 180 civil forfeiture cases while his license was suspended.
FitzGerald violated SCR 10.03(6) by continuing to engage in the practice of law between Oct. 31, 2003, and June 6, 2005, while his license was suspended for nonpayment of annual State Bar dues. FitzGerald violated SCR 31.10(1) by continuing to engage in the practice of law between June 6, 2005, and June 10, 2005, while his license was suspended for CLE noncompliance.
FitzGerald violated SCR 22.26(1)(a) by failing to notify his employer of his suspension for nonpayment of annual bar dues. FitzGerald violated SCR 22.26(1)(c) by failing to provide written notification of his suspension and inability to act as an attorney to the Vilas County circuit court and to opposing counsel.
FitzGerald had no prior discipline.
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Disciplinary Proceedings against Bartley G. Mauch
On July 24, 2007, the supreme court suspended the law license of Bartley G. Mauch, Prairie du Sac, for 90 days effective Aug. 31, 2007. The court also ordered Mauch to pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceedings. Disciplinary Proceedings against Mauch, 2007 WI 109.
Mauch's suspension was based on 10 counts of professional misconduct related to representing one client and managing his trust account. Mauch represented a client in litigation related to a disability insurance claim. Mauch filed on the client's behalf two summonses and complaints, both of which were dismissed without the client's knowledge. A judgment for costs of $2,647 was entered against Mauch's client following dismissal of the second complaint. Mauch told the client he had settled the case on his behalf for $60,000, to be paid in installments, and then issued four checks to the client to perpetuate the ruse that the case had been settled.
Mauch violated former SCR 20:1.2(a), in effect before July 1, 2007, by telling the trial court that he intended to dismiss the second complaint and signing a stipulation and order of dismissal, without first discussing the same with his client and allowing the client to decide whether to take the action proposed or to proceed with the case.
Mauch violated SCR 20:1.3 by failing to pursue the client's interests with regard to either complaint after the date the complaints were filed.
Mauch violated former SCR 20:1.4(a), in effect before July 1, 2007, by failing to keep the client advised as to developments in both lawsuits, promptly respond to the client's reasonable requests for information, and provide accurate information to the client regarding the status of his matters.
Mauch violated SCR 20:1.4(b), in effect before July 1, 2007, by failing to advise the client of pending motions, failing to advise the client of the dismissal of both cases and the judgment entered against him in the second case, falsely advising the client that the cases had been settled and then making payments to the client to deceive him into believing the payments were part of a settlement, and failing to explain to the client the ramifications of developments in his cases.
Mauch violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by providing false information to the client regarding the outcome of the second case and by engaging in a course of conduct intended to cause the client to believe the case had been settled.
Mauch violated former SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), former SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)a., and former SCR 20:1.15(h)(1) and (8), all in effect before July 1, 2007, by depositing in his trust account excess personal funds, failing to maintain a transaction register, and failing to enter into an overdraft reporting agreement with regard to his client trust account.
Finally, Mauch provided untimely and false information to the OLR, contrary to SCR 22.03(2) and (6).
Mauch had been publicly reprimanded in 1994 and in 2003 for violations including failing to provide competent representation, abide by clients' decisions regarding claims, consult with clients about their objectives, act with reasonable diligence, keep clients reasonably informed of the status of their matters, and cooperate with investigations into his conduct.
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Disciplinary Proceedings against Winston P. Brown
On July 27, 2007, the supreme court suspended the law license of Winston P. Brown, Milwaukee, for 90 days effective July 27, 2007. Disciplinary Proceedings against Brown, 2007 WI 110.
Brown's suspension was based on 10 counts of misconduct related to the management of his trust account and his handling of client and third-party funds.
By disbursing funds from the trust account before the deposit was made, Brown failed to hold clients' and third parties' property in trust, separate from his own property, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(a), in effect through June 30, 2004, and former SCR 20:1.15(e)(5)a., in effect from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007.
By depositing his personal funds in his trust account, depositing client funds in his office account, allowing earned fees to remain in trust without disbursing them, and using client or third-party funds to cover checks issued in matters related to other clients, Brown failed to hold clients' and third parties' property in trust, separate from his own property, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(a), in effect through June 30, 2004, and former SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), in effect from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007.
Brown made misrepresentations to a court in a guardianship matter, regarding whether funds were being held in a guardianship account and regarding expenses not having yet been paid, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c).
Additionally, Brown failed to fully answer the OLR's questions and provide relevant information and furnish documents to the OLR, and made a misrepresentation to the OLR during the investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(6).
Brown also failed to reconcile his trust account between Jan. 1, 2000, and May 12, 2004, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(e), in effect through June 30, 2004; failed to maintain complete trust account records, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(e), in effect through June 30, 2004; failed to identify on his deposit slips the client or matter associated with each deposit item, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)d., in effect from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007; failed to consistently identify the client matter and the reason for the disbursement on the memo line of all checks, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)e.1., in effect from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007; and failed to promptly notify clients of receipt of funds in which the client had an interest, and to promptly deliver them to the client, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(d), in effect from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2007.
Brown had no prior discipline.
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Disciplinary Proceedings against Rick D. Steinberg
On July 27, 2007, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Rick D. Steinberg, Brookfield, for professional misconduct. Disciplinary Proceedings against Steinberg, 2007 WI 113.
Steinberg has had a solo general practice in Brookfield since 2003. The OLR filed a disciplinary complaint against Steinberg alleging misconduct arising from several trust account violations. The first five counts involved a client whom Steinberg represented in a personal injury claim that was settled. After disbursing to himself one-third of the gross settlement proceeds pursuant to the fee agreement, Steinberg withheld in his trust account $2,024.25 potentially owed to a subrogated party, which subrogation claim was not later pursued. Rather than disbursing this entire amount to his client, Steinberg disbursed $1,389.75 to his client and $684.50 to himself and deposited $684.50 into his business account. By issuing the trust account check to himself and depositing it into his business account, Steinberg failed to hold funds in trust and commingled trust account funds with his own funds, contrary to former SCR 20:1.15(a), effective through June 30, 2004.
In March 2003, when Steinberg's trust account held the client's settlement funds of $2,024.25, Steinberg issued to himself an unnumbered trust account check in the sum of $1,000. His business account showed a deposit of $1,061.42 the same day. By April 17, 2003, his business account had a negative balance of $75.18. By issuing a trust account check of $1,000 to himself, Steinberg converted funds to his own purposes, thus engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, contrary to SCR 20:8.4(c). By disbursing to himself the $1,000 in trust account funds and depositing them into his business account, Steinberg failed to hold funds in trust and commingled trust account funds, contrary to former SCR 20:1.15(a), effective through June 30, 2004.
On July 7, 2003, Steinberg issued a trust account check that included at least $1,000 of the client's trust account funds, and deposited it into his business account. Steinberg's business account had been overdrawn since the end of June 2003 and had been incurring overdraft fees. After the deposit and other transactions, the account had a positive balance until the next day, when the account was completely depleted and again overdrawn. By depositing this trust account check into his business account on July 7, 2003, and converting funds to his own purposes by July 8, 2003, Steinberg engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c). By issuing this trust account check to his law office and depositing the check into his business account on July 7, 2003, Steinberg failed to hold funds in trust and commingled at least $1,000 in trust account funds with his own, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(a), effective through June 30, 2004.
Misconduct also arose from Steinberg's representation of another client. On Oct. 6, 2003, there was a $731.15 overdraft in Steinberg's trust account caused by the client's settlement check being returned for an improper endorsement. Also on Oct. 6, Steinberg disbursed a $2,000 trust account check, relating to another client matter, to his law office account, increasing the trust account overdraft. On Oct. 9, 2003, Steinberg redeposited the client's $4,070 settlement check into the trust account, restoring the balance to a positive $1,333.85. Thus, $2,000 of the client's settlement funds were not held in trust to the extent they covered the $2,000 check. Therefore, Steinberg failed to hold funds in trust and commingled client funds with his own in his business account, contrary to former SCR 20:1.15(a), effective through June 30, 2004.
In addition, Steinberg violated former SCR 20:1.15(e)(iii), (iv), and (v), effective through June 30, 2004, by failing to maintain an appropriate subsidiary ledger, a monthly schedule of the subsidiary ledger, and a checkbook with a running balance, thus failing to keep complete records of trust account funds. Finally, Steinberg filed certificates with the State Bar of Wisconsin falsely indicating that he was complying with each of the record-keeping requirements set forth in SCR 20:1.15(e), in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(g), effective through June 30, 2004.
The supreme court ordered a public reprimand, quarterly trust account reporting to the OLR for two years, six hours of CLE-approved trust account training, and that Steinberg pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
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Disciplinary Proceedings against Lawrence F. Pitts
On July 27, 2007, the supreme court ordered a six-month suspension of the law license of Lawrence F. Pitts, formerly of Green Bay, effective Aug. 31, 2007, for professional misconduct in multiple matters. Disciplinary Proceedings against Pitts, 2007 WI 112.
Pitts represented a client in a personal injury matter stemming from an alleged slip and fall incident at an apartment complex. In violation of SCR 20:1.3, Pitts failed to diligently pursue the client's claim, allowing the statute of limitation to expire. Pitts failed to keep the client reasonably informed as to case status, in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a), effective through June 30, 2007. In violation of SCR 22.03(6) and 20:8.4(f), Pitts made misrepresentations to the OLR regarding the content of communications with the client.
In a second client matter, Pitts represented a client in a divorce. Pitts violated former SCR 20:1.8(a) when he entered into an impermissible loan transaction with the client. In violation of former SCR 20:1.15(b), Pitts failed to notify the client of his receipt of an equalization payment and failed to timely deliver the funds to the client. Pitts disbursed the equalization payment to himself, contrary to former SCR 20:1.15(a). Pitts failed to cooperate with the OLR's investigation of the client's grievance, in violation of SCR 21.15(4), 22.03(2), 22.03(6), and 20:8.4(f).
Pitts' bank reported a trust account overdraft to the OLR, which led to an OLR audit of the account. That audit led to findings that Pitts disbursed trust account funds to himself, a portion of which did not belong to him, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(a). Pitts failed to maintain complete trust account records, contrary to former SCR 20:1.15(e). In violation of former SCR 20:1.15(g), Pitts falsely certified in a State Bar dues statement that he was in compliance with trust account record-keeping requirements.
The court also ordered Pitts to pay the $2,495.98 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. The court further ordered that Pitts' reinstatement is conditioned on the following requirements: 1) creation of an office management and business plan establishing a daily calendar, appropriate client trust account records, and an appropriate billing and filing system; and 2) his furnishing of his client trust account records to the OLR on a quarterly basis for two years following reinstatement .
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