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    Lawyer Discipline

    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.
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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2008

    Lawyer Discipline

    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.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Stephen M. Compton

    On Jan. 16, 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Stephen M. Compton, Delavan, for 60 days, and ordered Compton to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Compton, 2008 WI 3.

    Compton represented criminal defendants by appointment of the Office of the State Public Defender (SPD). In the fall of 2000, Compton was appointed to represent J.M., who ultimately was incarcerated at a state correctional institution. In January 2002, Compton allowed J.M., who was a former paralegal, to assist Compton in doing legal research on Compton's cases while J.M. was still incarcerated.

    Compton forwarded a client's case file to J.M. at the correctional institution without his client's prior knowledge or approval. J.M. performed legal research on this file for Compton. The court found that during J.M.'s incarceration, Compton did not have effective procedures in place to supervise J.M, to ensure that J.M.'s conduct was compatible with Compton's professional obligations, or to ensure that J.M would be able to maintain the confidentiality of the client matter while working from prison.

    The court held that by failing to adequately supervise J.M. while J.M. was performing legal work from prison, Compton violated former SCR 20:5.3(a) and (b), effective before July 1, 2007.

    After J.M. was released from prison in May 2002, Compton hired J.M. as a paralegal. From May 2002 to July 2002, J.M. worked on several case files for Compton.

    The SPD's billing policies require that an appointed attorney submit bills for reimbursement for "reasonable hours" the attorney has spent working on client matters. The policies further provide that work done by another attorney will not be reimbursed unless specifically approved.

    Despite this policy, Compton billed the SPD for approximately 120 hours of work performed by J.M. In three cases, Compton falsely certified that he had done all the legal work on the cases, when in fact J.M. had done much of the work.

    The court concluded that by billing the SPD for 120 hours of work at the appointed attorney rate when that work actually was performed by J.M., Compton engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c).

    Compton had been publicly reprimanded in 2002.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Jeffrey D. Berlin

    The supreme court suspended the law license of Jeffrey D. Berlin, formerly of Grafton, for six months effective Jan. 17, 2008. In addition, the court ordered that Berlin pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Berlin, 2008 WI 4.

    Berlin's suspension was based on eight counts of professional misconduct committed in connection with two client matters.

    In the first matter, Berlin represented a client individually and in her capacity as the purported special administrator of her deceased husband's estate. Berlin violated former SCR 20:1.8(g), in effect through June 30, 2007, by participating in making an aggregate settlement of both the client's individual claims and the claims of her husband's estate, without consulting with and obtaining the informed consent of the client and someone authorized by the probate court to act on behalf of the estate. Berlin also violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by engaging in a course of conduct intended to allocate the entirety of the aggregate settlement to the client individually, including by concurring with or advising his cocounsel to dismiss the probate case without advising the probate court that a settlement of claims belonging to the estate had been obtained and to distribute the entire net settlement proceeds to the client individually, when he knew that there were outstanding claims against the estate.

    In the second matter, Berlin represented a client as a part-time staff attorney for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA). Berlin violated SCR 20:1.3 by failing to timely file a brief on behalf of his client or to seek the consent of opposing counsel and the court to extend the time to file the brief, and by failing to take any action with regard to the court's resulting order to show cause why the case should not be dismissed. Berlin violated SCR 20:1.4(a) by failing to inform the client that he had failed to file the brief or obtain a time extension in which to file it, and that the court had issued an order to show cause. Berlin violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by making false statements to his supervisor regarding the client's brief and by failing to affirmatively advise his supervisor that the court had issued the order to show cause. Berlin also made a misrepresentation to the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) in the course of its investigation, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(f) as it relates to the requirements of SCR 22.03(6).

    Additionally, in both matters Berlin violated SCR 20:8.4(f) as it relates to the requirements of SCR 22.03(6) by failing to provide the OLR with information requested during the course of both investigations.

    Berlin was publicly reprimanded in August 2005 for three counts of failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, three counts of failing to keep a client reasonably informed of the status of a matter, two trust account violations, and three counts of failing to refund unearned advanced fees. Public Reprimand of Jeffrey D. Berlin. 2005-4

    Disciplinary proceeding against George H. Losby

    In a Jan. 29, 2008 decision, the supreme court suspended the law license of George H. Losby, Eau Claire, for 18 months, effective March 3, 2008. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Losby, 2008 WI 8.

    The court accepted the referee's conclusion that Losby had engaged in 10 counts of misconduct involving three probate estates. Losby failed to file fiduciary income tax returns and failed to act with reasonable diligence in closing the estates, contrary to SCR 20:1.3. In two of the estates, he filed final accounts that falsely reported the amount of fees he had taken and the amount of certain income and tax liabilities, contrary to SCR 20:3.3(a)(1). In the same two estates, he took more fees than he was entitled to receive, contrary to SCR 20:8.4(c), and failed to cooperate with the OLR's investigation, contrary to SCR 20:8.4(f) as it relates to SCR 22.03(6). In one of the estates, Losby also failed to appear at hearings and meet court-imposed filing deadlines, contrary to SCR 20:3.4(c).

    Losby was ordered to pay restitution in two of the estates. He had no prior discipline.

    Public reprimand of Joseph C. Crawford

    The OLR and Joseph C. Crawford, La Pointe, 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 Dec. 27, 2007, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3). The public reprimand stemmed from a single matter investigated by the OLR.

    Crawford represented a client pro bono in misdemeanor criminal matters in Bayfield County. Crawford and the district attorney entered into an extrajudicial agreement under which the defendant would leave the state for three years, after which time the district attorney would seek dismissal of the charges. The client appeared in court, pleaded no contest to initial charges, and left the state before the sentencing hearing.

    Crawford and the district attorney did not advise the court of the arrangement during either the plea hearing or the subsequent sentencing hearing. Knowing that his client would not appear at the sentencing hearing because of the arrangement with the district attorney, Crawford encouraged his client to commit the crime of bail jumping, in violation of former SCR 20:1.2(d), effective before July 1, 2007. By failing to advise the court at the plea hearing or sentencing hearing of the facts associated with the arrangement with the district attorney, Crawford engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c). Furthermore, Crawford allowed his client to testify falsely during the plea colloquy regarding the absence of promises or inducements and failed to take reasonable remedial measures to correct the false testimony in violation of former SCR 20:3.3(a)(4), effective before July 1, 2007.

    Crawford had no prior disciplinary history.

    Public reprimand of Sallie L. Rubenzer

    The OLR and Sallie L. Rubenzer, West Bend, 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 Dec. 27, 2007, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).

    Rubenzer was found guilty on Dec. 13, 2006, of her fourth operating while intoxicated (OWI) offense. Her conduct violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which provides that it is 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. In addition, Rubenzer failed to report the guilty finding to the OLR and to the clerk of the supreme court and thereby violated SCR 21.15(5), which states that it is misconduct for an attorney who is found guilty or convicted of a crime to fail to report the finding or conviction within five days to the clerk of the supreme court and to the OLR.

    The OWI charge on which the reprimand is based arose out of an incident that occurred Aug. 19, 2006. Rubenzer was seen driving erratically, including driving in the wrong direction on city streets. A person whose vehicle was nearly hit by Rubenzer's contacted police. The officer responding to the call determined that Rubenzer was impaired and arrested her. A blood test showed Rubenzer's blood alcohol concentration to be .298.

    Rubenzer pleaded no contest. At sentencing on Jan. 25, 2007, the court ordered Rubenzer to serve eight months in jail commencing on that day. The court also suspended Rubenzer's driver's license for 33 months and fined her $2,400.

    Rubenzer had prior discipline, including a 2004 private reprimand for violating SCR 20:8.4(b) by committing her third OWI offense.




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