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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. 9, September 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.

    Reinstatement of Kristin Gernetzke

    On July 17, 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the law license of Kristin J. Gernetzke and ordered her to pay the $2,895.92 cost of the proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Gernetzke, 2008 WI 100.

    The court had suspended Gernetzke's license for six months, effective March 2, 2007, as a result of improper and undocumented billings that Gernetzke submitted to the Office of the State Public Defender (SPD). Disciplinary Proceedings Against Gernetzke, 2007 WI 6, 298 Wis. 2d 607, 725 N.W. 2d 942.

    After a hearing on Gernetzke's petition, a referee concluded that Gernetzke had met the standard for reinstatement set forth in SCR 22.31(1) and recommended reinstating her license. The referee noted that Gernetzke had paid full restitution to the SPD's office. The court adopted the referee's recommendation and imposed conditions that require Gernetzke to be directly supervised by another attorney for three years from the date she resumes practicing law and to report such compliance to the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR).

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    Disciplinary proceeding against Joan M. Boyd

    The supreme court suspended the law license of Joan M. Boyd, Shawano, for five months, effective Aug. 25, 2008. The court also ordered Boyd to pay restitution to her clients and to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Boyd, 2008 WI 103. Boyd's suspension related to five counts of misconduct in three unrelated client matters.

    The first and second counts related to Boyd's representation of a couple in a bankruptcy. After learning that the clients had a house fire, Boyd filed bankruptcy schedules that did not disclose the insurance proceeds the clients received and did not accurately report the clients' assets and purchases they made with insurance money. Boyd thereby violated SCR 20:1.1, which requires competent representation. Boyd also failed to attend a meeting of creditors after her clients told her that they were not going to attend the hearing, in violation of SCR 20:1.3, which requires reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.

    The third count related to Boyd's representation of a client in a bankruptcy. Boyd filed an unnecessary bankruptcy petition for her client and repeatedly tried to exempt a nonexempt investment account from the bankruptcy estate, in violation of SCR 20:1.1.

    The fourth and fifth counts related to Boyd's representation of a client in a criminal postconviction matter. Boyd handled the matter despite her insufficient experience and failed to prepare for a hearing on a motion, in violation of SCR 20:1.1. Boyd violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by misrepresenting her experience in criminal law to the client's mother before the client and his mother decided to hire Boyd.

    Boyd had received two prior public reprimands.

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    Disciplinary proceeding against Maureen B. Fitzgerald

    On July 17, 2008, the supreme court suspended the law license of Maureen B. Fitzgerald, Milwaukee, for 60 days and ordered her to pay restitution to the SPD. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Fitzgerald, 2008 WI 101.

    On May 9, 2006, Fitzgerald's law license was temporarily suspended for Fitzgerald's failure to cooperate with an OLR investigation. On June 2, 2006, Fitzgerald received a 90-day suspension for professional misconduct. She has not sought reinstatement.

    Fitzgerald's current suspension is based on six counts of misconduct relating to two matters. In the first matter, Fitzgerald appeared on behalf of four clients while her license was suspended, in violation of SCR 22.26(2). Fitzgerald billed and accepted payment from the SPD for those appearances, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c). Fitzgerald failed to cooperate with the OLR's investigation of the matter, in violation of 22.03(2).

    In the second matter, Fitzgerald entered a not guilty plea on behalf of a client while her license was suspended, in violation of SCR 22.26(2). Fitzgerald misled the Jefferson County circuit court clerk about her license status, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c). Fitzgerald failed to cooperate with the OLR's investigation of the matter, in violation of SCR 22.03(2).

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    Disciplinary proceeding against R.L. McNeely

    On July 15, 2008, the supreme court suspended the law license of R.L. McNeely, Milwaukee, for 60 days effective Aug. 25, 2008, and ordered him to pay the full $3,710.27 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against McNeely, 2008 WI 91.

    McNeely's suspension was based on three counts of professional misconduct committed in connection with his representation of a client, in the client's capacities as an individual and as the purported special administrator of her deceased husband's estate.

    McNeely violated former SCR 20:1.8(g) (effective before July 1, 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.

    McNeely violated SCR 20:3.3(a)(1) by making false statements of fact to the Milwaukee County register in probate regarding a petition for special administration of the estate, notably by failing to disclose that a settlement had been reached that resulted in release of the estate's claims in a personal injury matter.

    McNeely also violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which prohibits conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, by engaging in a course of conduct intended to allocate the entire aggregate settlement of the client's individual claims and the estate's claims in a personal injury matter to the client individually and to distribute the entire net settlement proceeds to the client individually, when McNeely knew that there were outstanding claims against the estate.

    McNeely had no prior discipline.

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    Disciplinary proceeding against Terrence J. Woods

    On July 8, 2008, the supreme court suspended the law license of Terrence J. Woods, Oconto Falls, for 90 days, effective Aug. 11, 2008, and ordered him to pay the full $2,009.83 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Woods, 2008 WI 79.

    The court accepted a stipulation between Woods and the OLR in which Woods entered a no contest plea to allegations that he engaged in four counts of misconduct during his representation of clients. The allegations included failing to file an amended plan and amended budget in a bankruptcy proceeding, resulting in the dismissal of the bankruptcy action, in violation of SCR 20:1.3; failing to keep a client informed about the status of a bankruptcy petition, including the court's order to file an amended plan and budget, in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a); representing both a husband and a wife in a bankruptcy proceeding even though he represented one spouse in divorce and temporary restraining order matters, without consulting with both spouses or obtaining written conflict waivers, in violation of former SCR 20:1.7(a); and failing to return to a client funds advanced in connection with a bankruptcy proceeding, in violation of former SCR 20:1.16(d).

    Woods had been the subject of five prior disciplinary orders: two public reprimands (1993 and 2003), a private reprimand (1996), and two court-imposed, 60-day suspensions.

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    Disciplinary proceeding against Carlos A. Gamino

    On July 30, 2008, the supreme court suspended the law license of Carlos A. Gamino, Waukesha, for 18 months, effective Sept. 2, 2008. The court also ordered Gamino to complete 24 credits of approved continuing legal education coursework in legal ethics and professional responsibility and to pay the $16,281.02 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Gamino, 2008 WI 107.

    Gamino agreed to jointly represent both spouses in a divorce proceeding. The spouses previously had been represented by separate attorneys, but the husband suggested that they save money by finding one attorney to represent them both. The parties had had a lengthy marriage, and the wife was a victim of domestic violence, in poor health, and receiving Social Security disability payments. Gamino violated former SCR 20:1.7(a) (effective before July 1, 2007) by representing both parties in an adverse divorce proceeding, when he could not have reasonably believed that the wife's interests would not be adversely affected by the dual representation and when he failed to obtain the written consent of either party to the dual representation.

    Additionally, by failing to advise the wife that the divorce had been dismissed for failure to prosecute and that he had filed a motion to reopen the matter, and by failing to inform the wife, until the day of the default divorce hearing, that he was only going to represent her husband and not her, Gamino failed to keep the wife reasonably informed about the status of the divorce action, in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a) (effective before July 1, 2007).

    Further, Gamino failed to make adequate inquiry into the husband's retirement assets, the wife's health condition and disability status, and domestic violence the wife had experienced, and he failed to advise the wife of her rights to fair maintenance, in violation of SCR 20:1.1, which requires an attorney to provide competent representation.

    Gamino also violated former SCR 20:1.9(a) (effective before July 1, 2007) when he continued to represent the husband after he ceased representing the wife, without obtaining the wife's written consent to Gamino's representation of her husband. The court adopted the referee's findings that the stipulated marital settlement agreement did not give the wife the $98,000 that she was to get from her husband's known pension accounts, and that Gamino had crucial knowledge about the wife that created an insurmountable conflict that made his continued representation of the husband impossible.

    Finally, Gamino violated former SCR 20:1.16(d) (effective before July 1, 2007) when he failed to provide the wife's file to her successor counsel on request.

    Gamino was previously disciplined by the court. In 2005, the court suspended Gamino for six months for engaging in a sexual relationship with a client in one matter and in a sexual relationship with a juvenile client's mother in another matter. Gamino also made false representations to a court and to the OLR about his conduct. In 2006, Gamino received a public reprimand for failing to act with reasonable diligence, failing to immediately refund unearned fees, contacting a client after receiving notice that successor counsel had been retained, and committing a trust account violation.

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    Public reprimand of Peter J. Kovac

    The OLR and Peter J. Kovac, 61, Milwaukee, agreed to the imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court approved the agreement and issued a public reprimand on April 21, 2008.

    Kovac's misconduct stemmed from his handling of four client matters. In the first matter, Kovac was appointed to provide appellate-level representation to a man sentenced to life in prison for a conviction of first-degree intentional homicide while using a dangerous weapon and to 20 years' imprisonment for a conviction of attempted first-degree intentional homicide while using a dangerous weapon. Kovac failed to competently represent the client, in violation of SCR 20:1.1; failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing the client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3; failed to 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); and failed to cooperate with the investigation of the grievance, in violation of SCR 22.03(2), and therefore violated a supreme court rule regulating lawyer conduct, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(f).

    In the second matter, a client hired Kovac to represent him on a state felony charge of party to a crime of first-degree intentional homicide while armed. The client was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The client also hired Kovac to seek postconviction relief. Kovac failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing the client, contrary to SCR 20:1.3, and failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, contrary to SCR 20:1.4(a).

    The third matter involved Kovac's representation of a client who was convicted of two drug-related felonies. Kovac failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing the client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3, and failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of his matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a). Kovac also failed to cooperate with the investigation of the client's grievance, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and 20:8.4(f).

    In the fourth matter, Kovac was hired to represent a client in a federal case involving drug trafficking and related firearms offenses. Kovac engaged in an impermissible conflict of interest, in violation of former SCR 20:1.7(b) (effective before July 1, 2007), and failed to cooperate with the investigation of the grievance, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and 20:8.4(f).

    Kovac had no prior discipline.

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    Public reprimand of William P. Skemp

    The OLR and William P. Skemp, La Crosse, 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 in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on July 14, 2008. The public reprimand stemmed from two matters investigated by the OLR.

    In the first matter, Skemp represented clients in litigation relating to a fuel oil spill on their property. The clients also sought advice from Skemp regarding the sale of the property, and he entered into an agreement to purchase the clients' property without giving the clients reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent counsel and without the clients consenting in writing. By entering into an agreement to purchase the real property of his clients, Skemp violated former SCR 20:1.8(a) (effective before July 1, 2007), which governs transactions between attorneys and clients. Later, Skemp sold the property and failed to inform the buyer of the fuel oil spill on the property and sold it to her even though he was aware of the spill and the expert reports regarding the steps necessary to return the property to pre-spill condition or at least make the property habitable and was aware the expert recommendations were not followed. He thereby violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which prohibits conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

    In the second matter, Skemp was hired in July 2005 to litigate a medical malpractice claim and then failed to advance the clients' interests in any appreciable manner before the attorney-client relationship was terminated in late 2007, including failing to commence an action or make any kind of filing in the matter on the clients' behalf. Skemp thereby violated SCR 20:1.3, which states, "A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client." By failing to keep the clients informed of the status of their case and failing to respond to their numerous requests for information between September 2006 and July 2007, Skemp violated former SCR 20:1.4(a) (effective before July 1, 2007), which requires an attorney to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.

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    Medical incapacity of John H. Wolf III

    On Jan. 23, 2008, the supreme court adopted a stipulation between the OLR and John H. Wolf III, 55, Waukesha, and imposed conditions on Wolf's law license because of medical incapacity. Medical Incapacity Proceedings Against Wolf, 2008 WI 7. The court acted pursuant to SCR 22.34 and found that Wolf currently suffers from a medical incapacity that at times substantially prevents him from performing to acceptable professional standards the duties of an attorney.

    Wolf received a public reprimand in 2007 for violating SCR 20:8.4(b) by committing the criminal acts of misdemeanor operation of a firearm (with a controlled substance) and disorderly conduct.

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