Vol. 83, No. 5, May 2010
Disciplinary proceeding against Benjamin J. Harris
On Feb. 4, 2010, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Benjamin J. Harris, Milwaukee, for 60 days, effective March 8, 2010, and ordered him to pay the cost of the proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Harris, 2010 WI 9.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) charged Harris with four counts of misconduct. Harris stipulated to two misconduct counts. Following an evidentiary hearing, the referee recommended dismissal of the remaining two counts. Harris and the OLR stipulated to the propriety of a 60-day license suspension.
A woman hired Harris to represent her in defending an action seeking specific performance of a real estate contract and in the subsequent appeal. Harris failed to keep himself informed of the status of the litigation at both the trial and appellate levels, failed to attend a damages hearing, and failed to attend a motion hearing seeking enforcement of the judgment, in violation of SCR 20:1.3, which requires an attorney to represent a client with reasonable diligence and promptness. Harris failed to notify the client of the status of her case, failed to notify her of hearings, and failed to inform her of separate orders dismissing the appeal and granting a motion to enforce a judgment, in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a) (applicable to conduct occurring before June 30, 2007) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4).
The discipline in the current case represented a progression from a private reprimand issued to Harris in 2007 and a public reprimand issued in 2008, each of which addressed misconduct that violated Supreme Court Rules governing diligence and communication with clients.
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Public reprimand of J.E. Nugent
The OLR and J.E. Nugent, Waupun, agreed to the imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on March 2, 2010.
While investigating an overdraft on Nugent’s trust account, the OLR discovered that Nugent did not maintain a transaction register or perform monthly account reconciliations, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)a. and g. In addition, Nugent falsely certified on his fiscal 2008 State Bar dues statement that he was maintaining the trust account records required by SCR 20:1.15(f), when he was not doing so, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(i)(4).
On Jan. 8, 2009, the OLR further discovered that the State Bar of Wisconsin had suspended Nugent’s law license for failure to pay annual State Bar dues. In September 2008, the State Bar notified Nugent that his license would be suspended by Oct. 31, 2008, if he did not pay his dues. In October 2008, Nugent sent a check, which was returned because of insufficient funds. Nugent did not send a replacement check. Therefore, the State Bar suspended Nugent’s license and informed Nugent that his license would remain suspended until he paid.
Nugent continued to make court appearances, file court documents, and work on client matters. During a telephone call on Jan. 8, 2009, an OLR investigator advised Nugent of the license suspension. Nevertheless, on Jan. 14, 2009, Nugent appeared for a scheduled trial in Dodge County Circuit Court. During the trial, the State Bar sent the judge an email advising that Nugent was suspended. The judge adjourned the trial until Nugent could cure the suspension, which he did later that day by paying his dues in full.
By engaging in the practice of law between Nov. 12, 2008, and Jan. 14, 2009, while his law license was suspended for failing to pay annual State Bar dues, Nugent violated SCR 10.03(6), enforceable under SCR 20:8.4(f).
Nugent received a private reprimand in 1985, a public reprimand in 2003, and a 60-day suspension in 2006.
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Disciplinary proceeding against Torger G. Omdahl
On Jan. 21, 2010, the supreme court issued an order publicly reprimanding Torger G. Omdahl, Iron River, Mich., as discipline reciprocal to two consensual public reprimands imposed against Omdahl’s Michigan law license, the first in 2000 and the second in 2008. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Omdahl, 2010 WI 3.
On March 18, 2010, the court denied Omdahl’s reconsideration motion, but it modified its Jan. 21, 2010, opinion by substituting the word “Medicare” for “Medicaid” in paragraph 4 and deleting paragraph 6 of the Jan. 21, 2010 order. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Omdahl, 2010 WI 18.
In the Michigan public reprimand imposed in 2000, Omdahl pleaded no contest to allegations of professional misconduct relating to his including inappropriate provisions within a retainer agreement. Omdahl also failed to notify the OLR of this discipline within 20 days of its effective date.
In the Michigan public reprimand imposed in 2008, Omdahl pleaded no contest to allegations that he failed to ensure that his firm had in place measures giving reasonable assurance that the conduct of nonlawyer assistants is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer. Omdahl also failed to notify the OLR of this discipline within 20 days of its effective date.
Omdahl had no prior Wisconsin discipline.
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Disciplinary proceeding against Jeffrey T. Roethe
On March 24, 2010, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Jeffrey T. Roethe, Edgerton, for misconduct he engaged in while handling two informal-probate matters. The court also ordered Roethe to pay the $24,630.53 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Roethe, 2010 WI 19.
By having copersonal representatives sign a fee agreement that provided for a fee based on a percentage of an estate’s gross value, Roethe violated Wis. Stat. section 851.40(2)(e), which controls billing in probate matters, and SCR 20:8.4(f), which states that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to violate a statute regulating the conduct of lawyers.
By permitting and ratifying his assistant’s conduct in notarizing two signatures on a sworn affidavit, when the two persons were out of Wisconsin and did not appear before the assistant on the date she attested that the signatures were subscribed and sworn to before her, Roethe violated former SCR 20:5.3(c) (effective before June 30, 2007), which stated that a lawyer was responsible for an assistant’s conduct that the lawyer knew about or ratified if the conduct engaged in would have been professional misconduct if engaged in by the lawyer. Roethe also violated former SCR 20:5.3(c) when he permitted and ratified his assistant’s conduct in notarizing a person’s signature on an application for informal administration and on a proof of heirship, when the person did not appear before the assistant on the date she attested his signatures were subscribed and sworn to before her, and when Roethe then permitted the notarized documents to be filed with a court.
A referee found, and the court agreed, that the OLR failed to meet its burden of proof with respect to two other counts.
Roethe was publicly reprimanded in 2000 for violating conflict-of-interest rules by representing a city, a developer, and a farmer in related real estate transactions and for making misrepresentations to the OLR’s predecessor, the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility.
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