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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. 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.
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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 6, June 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 Jeffrey L. Elverman

    In a decision dated April 8, 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Jeffrey L. Elverman, Waukesha, for nine months, effective May 12, 2008. Elverman was further ordered to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding, which totaled $24,222.99 as of March 3, 2008. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Elverman, 2008 WI 28.

    Between 1999 and 2004, while an attorney with a Milwaukee law firm, Elverman received $230,000 in cotrustee fees from three trusts. Elverman turned none of those fees over to his firm. Further, Elverman did not timely report the trustee fees as income; he reported the fees as income only after his handling of them was under investigation by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR).

    By failing to report the cotrustee fees as income on state and federal tax returns in the applicable years, Elverman violated SCR 20:8.4(f), which states in relevant part, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to … violate a … supreme court decision regulating the conduct of lawyers." Applicable supreme court decisions include Disciplinary Proceedings Against Owens, 172 Wis. 2d 54, 56-57, 492 N.W.2d 157 (1992).

    Elverman had no prior discipline.

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    Disciplinary proceeding against Richard A. Engelbrecht

    By order dated April 8, 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Richard A. Engelbrecht, Green Bay, for two years effective the date of the order. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Engelbrecht, 2008 WI 29.

    The court accepted a stipulation between Engelbrecht and the OLR in which Engelbrecht acknowledged engaging in six counts of misconduct related to his representation of a client in an employment discrimination matter. Engelbrecht failed to obtain service of a summons and complaint, contrary to SCR 20:1.3; failed to communicate with the client regarding the status of the case, contrary to SCR 20:1.4(a); failed to refund $1,000 in fees after the client's lawsuit was dismissed, contrary to SCR 20:1.16(d); misrepresented to the client that the client was responsible for obtaining service and fabricated a letter in support of that misrepresentation, contrary to SCR 20:8.4(c); misrepresented to the OLR that the client was responsible for service and submitted a copy of the fabricated letter to the OLR during its investigation, contrary to SCR 22.03(6); and failed to cooperate with the OLR's investigative committee, contrary to SCR 22.04(1).

    Engelbrecht had been the subject of three prior disciplinary orders: a consensual private reprimand (1989); a 60-day suspension (2000); and a six-month suspension (2007). Engelbrecht's license was still under suspension at the time of the court's order in this case.

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    Public Reprimand of Michael W. Steinhafel

    The OLR and Michael W. Steinhafel, 45, Brookfield, agreed to 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 21, 2008. The reprimand was based on Steinhafel's misconduct relating to three grievances that were filed against him.

    In the first matter, a man hired Steinhafel to recover funds that the client believed were owed to him by his former employer. The client paid $1,000 to Steinhafel, who said that he would file a lawsuit. Contrary to SCR 20:1.3, Steinhafel failed to file or prosecute a lawsuit against the employer for the next four years.

    Steinhafel violated SCR 20:1.4(a) when he failed to communicate with the client for extended periods of time, including failing to respond to faxes in which the client asked Steinhafel to provide a status update. Steinhafel made misrepresentations to the client, contrary to SCR 20:8.4(c), by telling the client that he had filed the lawsuit, hearings had been postponed, a certain hearing was scheduled, and he had filed a summary judgment motion, when, in fact, Steinhafel had not even commenced an action on the client's behalf. Steinhafel violated SCR 20:1.16(d) when he failed to timely return the case file to the client, and he failed to refund any portion of the $1,000 advanced fee when the client terminated the representation and Steinhafel had done minimal work in the case.

    Following an investigation in the second matter, the OLR determined that misconduct could not be proven by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence. Steinhafel, however, failed to timely respond to the grievance, contrary to SCR 22.03(2) and (6) and 20:8.4(f).

    In the third matter, a landlord hired Steinhafel to evict a tenant. In violation of SCR 20:1.3, Steinhafel failed to file any court proceeding for the next five months. Steinhafel failed to respond to numerous phone inquiries from the client relating to case status and gave inaccurate information as to case status, contrary to SCR 20:1.4(a). Steinhafel violated SCR 20:8.4(c) when he: 1) advised the client to have her son pose as an insurance inspector to gain access to the apartment; 2) told the client that he had tried to achieve service of an eviction notice on the tenant although he had not done so; 3) told the client that he had filed an eviction action although he had not done so; 4) told the client that a hearing had been held in the eviction case and that the tenant had been ordered to vacate the apartment, when no action had even been filed; and 5) told the client that the sheriff's department would evict the tenant on a certain date, although no action had been filed.

    As a prior condition of imposition of the consensual public reprimand, Steinhafel refunded $1,000 to his client in the first matter.

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    Public reprimand of Patrick J. Hudec

    The OLR and Patrick J. Hudec, 53, East Troy, agreed to 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 March 27, 2008.

    In one matter, Hudec represented the plaintiffs in a personal injury case that was filed in 2002. Hudec violated SCR 20:1.3 by failing to advance the client's lawsuit, including failing to respond to discovery requests, which led to delays and the imposition of sanctions. Hudec also failed to keep his clients reasonably informed about the status of the case, including failing to return numerous phone calls from one of the clients, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a). The clients eventually received a nominal recovery.

    Hudec experienced a medical condition during his representation of the plaintiffs that caused him to frequently miss work. A circuit court appointed a trustee attorney for Hudec's law practice in September 2005, pursuant to SCR 12.02, at Hudec's request. In March 2006, Hudec's doctor gave him clearance to return to practicing law. After receiving this clearance, however, Hudec failed to timely respond to the OLR's letters and phone calls or to produce information requested by the OLR, in violation of SCR 21.15(4), 22.03(6), and 20:8.4(f).

    The OLR considered Hudec's medical condition and his voluntary petition for a trustee to be mitigating factors relating to allegations of neglect and failure to communicate in the personal injury case.

    During a second OLR investigation, Hudec, after having received clearance from his doctor, similarly failed to timely respond to letters from the OLR or to return the OLR's phone calls, contrary to SCR 21.15(4) and 20:8.4(f).

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    Public reprimand of Benjamin J. Harris

    The OLR and Benjamin J. Harris, Milwaukee, 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 in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on April 21, 2008. The public reprimand stemmed from three matters investigated by the OLR.

    In the first matter, a woman hired Harris to represent her in foreclosing on a land contract for the sale of the woman's real property. The contract was due in May 2005. By failing to file a foreclosure action against the buyer on the land contract between August 2005 and October 2006, Harris violated SCR 20:1.3. Instead of pursing the foreclosure or assisting the client in selling the property to another buyer, Harris entered into a land contract to purchase the real property directly from his client. By entering into a land contract with his client without obtaining the requisite written consent from the client, Harris violated former SCR 20:1.8(a) (effective through June 30, 2007).

    In the second matter, the owners of an out-of-state merchandise exporting company hired Harris to represent it in defending an action brought by a credit card processing company seeking to collect on credit card charge backs that the merchandise exporting company disputed and refused to pay. By failing to respond to the plaintiff's motion to amend its complaint and by failing to attend a motion hearing in May 2006, Harris violated SCR 20:1.3. By failing to consistently inform the clients about the status of their case and respond to their numerous attempts to contact him, Harris violated former SCR 20:1.4(a) (effective through June 30, 2007).

    In the third matter, a man hired Harris in 2003 to represent him in a divorce. By failing to timely resolve the equalization payment disputed by the parties, and by failing to attend a contempt hearing, resulting in a finding of contempt against his client, Harris violated SCR 20:1.3. By failing to respond to the client's telephone calls, failing to notify the client of a proposed stipulation and order regarding the property equalization issues, and failing to notify the client of upcoming hearings, an order for contempt, and an execution issued against him, Harris violated former SCR 20:1.4(a) (effective through June 30, 2007). By failing to promptly provide the client's file to the client or successor counsel, despite numerous requests, Harris violated former SCR 20:1.16(d) (effective through June 30, 2007).

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