Vol. 84, No. 9, September 2011
Public reprimand of Paul Strouse
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Paul Strouse, Milwaukee, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on June 17, 2011, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
An individual hired Strouse to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. Strouse filed the bankruptcy action in May 2008 and over the next several months filed all the required schedules, met with creditors, and succeeded in having a plan confirmed. The client made all payments in accordance with the approved plan.
In May 2009, the client advised Strouse that he wanted to move to Georgia for health reasons, and, in addition, wanted to surrender two residential properties he owned. Strouse advised the client, incorrectly, that he needed to convert his bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 proceeding, and he charged the client another fee to convert the case. After converting the case to a Chapter 7 proceeding, Strouse acknowledged during a section 341 meeting of creditors that he had made an error, because the income of the client, a disabled veteran, disqualified him from a Chapter 7 filing. Strouse therefore promised his client, the U.S. trustee, and the court that he would convert the case back to a Chapter 13 proceeding.
Strouse never completed the conversion, claiming that his client had changed his mind and did not want to proceed with the bankruptcy. However, Strouse did not document this purported discussion, and the client expressly denied that he wanted to abandon the bankruptcy.
After moving to Georgia, the client attempted without success to communicate with Strouse. Ultimately, the client wrote Strouse and informed him that it was his understanding that the case would be reconverted to a Chapter 13 and advised Strouse that he did not know the status of his case. The client filed his letter with the court, prompting a letter from the U.S. trustee, who also detailed instances of miscommunication by Strouse with regard to the bankruptcy proceeding. Strouse never reconverted the case, and the court dismissed the entire proceeding, resulting in the client being subjected to creditors’ claims.
By failing to reconvert the client’s case to a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding after erroneously converting the case to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding, resulting in the dismissal of the original Chapter 13 filing, Strouse failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3.
By failing to respond to the client’s inquiries or otherwise keep the client reasonably informed regarding the status of the bankruptcy filing, Strouse violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), which provides, in relevant part, “(a) A lawyer shall: … (3) Keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter,” and SCR 20:1.4(a)(4), which provides, in relevant part, “(a) A lawyer shall … (4) Promptly comply with reasonable requests by the client for information; …”
By failing to explain the bankruptcy proceedings sufficiently to the client, including failing to memorialize in writing the client’s options with regard to the bankruptcy and the consequences of the dismissal of the action, Strouse prevented the client from making informed decisions regarding the representation and thereby violated SCR 20:1.4(b), which provides, “A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.”
Strouse had one prior public reprimand, imposed in 2010.
Disciplinary proceeding against James M. Schoenecker
In a decision dated July 15, 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of James M. Schoenecker, Elm Grove, for three years, effective Aug. 15, 2011. Because Schoenecker entered into a stipulation under SCR 22.12, the court did not impose costs. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schoenecker, 2011 WI 76
Schoenecker’s misconduct was multifaceted, involving his former fiancée (hereinafter the fiancée), his former law firm, and his own personal bankruptcy proceeding. In 2007, Schoenecker and his fiancée opened a joint checking account. The fiancée also obtained a $100,000 line of credit on her home and loaned Schoenecker $48,500. Schoenecker signed a promissory note and promised to repay the loan with interest. Two days after receiving the loan, Schoenecker accessed the checking account while gambling at a casino, leaving a $1,500 negative balance.
In March 2008, Schoenecker joined a law firm as an associate. By this time, Schoenecker had repaid the fiancée $26,500 on the loan but remained indebted to her for the balance, plus interest. While at the firm, Schoenecker agreed to represent the fiancée in a contractor dispute. He sent her a fee agreement but he did not obtain her written consent to waive any actual or potential conflict of interest arising out of their debtor/creditor relationship. Schoenecker then sent fraudulent billing invoices to her for legal services. It was later discovered that Schoenecker maintained a clandestine law practice on the side while working as an associate at the law firm. In connection with that side practice, Schoenecker also failed to identify his client trust account in his 2010 State Bar dues statement.
In December 2008, Schoenecker used the fiancée’s personal information to access her business account and set up an online bill-paying account. Schoenecker then generated checks from the account payable to himself in the amounts of $950, $450, and $1,750. He attempted to cash the checks in both Walworth and Waukesha counties. After the scheme was uncovered, Schoenecker was charged and ultimately convicted in two separate criminal proceedings. Schoenecker was convicted of identity theft in Walworth County, see State v. Schoenecker, Walworth County Circuit Court Case No. 2009CF250, and theft of moveable property in Waukesha County, see State v. Schoenecker, Waukesha County Circuit Court Case No. 2009CF732. Following his conviction, Schoenecker did not provide written notification of his convictions to the OLR or the clerk of the supreme court.
Schoenecker filed for bankruptcy in July 2009. The bankruptcy court granted Schoenecker a discharge in January 2010. However, the U.S. trustee subsequently learned that Schoenecker had failed to disclose in his bankruptcy schedules his income from his clandestine law practice. The U.S. trustee then moved to revoke the discharge for fraud. Schoenecker stipulated to the revocation of the discharge, acknowledging that he had filed false schedules, had testified falsely at the creditors’ meeting, and otherwise had violated federal bankruptcy law.
By agreeing to represent the fiancée while maintaining a debtor/creditor relationship with her without obtaining her informed consent, Schoenecker violated SCR 20:1.7(a), which provides, “(a) Except as provided in par. (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if: … (2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.”
By sending invoices to the fiancée for services he did not perform and for fees she did not incur, Schoenecker violated SCR 20:1.5(a), which provides, “(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses.…”
By filing a fiscal 2010 State Bar of Wisconsin membership dues and supreme court assessment statement that failed to identify a trust account purportedly established by Schoenecker while he was engaged in the private practice of law, Schoenecker violated SCR 20:1.15(i), which provides, in relevant part, “(1) Annual requirement. A member of the state bar of Wisconsin shall file with the state bar of Wisconsin annually … a certificate stating whether the member is engaged in the practice of law in Wisconsin. If the member is practicing law, the member shall state the account number of any trust account, and the name of each financial institution in which the member maintains a trust account, a safe deposit box, or both, as required by this section.”
By establishing a clandestine private law practice while working as an associate at a law firm, and by failing to account for or disclose to the firm legal fees earned by his side law practice, Schoenecker breached his fiduciary duty owed to his firm and his duty of honesty in his professional dealings with the firm, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(f) (“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … (f) violate a … supreme court decision … regulating the conduct of lawyers”). The underlying supreme court decision is Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shea, 190 Wis. 2d 560, 190 N.W.2d 560 (1995).
By misappropriating the personal information of the fiancée and without her consent generating two checks from her business bank account made payable to him, and attempting to cash the checks, which conduct led to Schoenecker’s conviction for one felony count of identity theft; misappropriating the personal information of the fiancée, hacking into her business account, and generating a third check and attempting to cash it, which conduct led to Schoenecker’s conviction for one misdemeanor count of theft of moveable property; and making false statements and submitting false testimony during a bankruptcy proceeding, Schoenecker violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which provides, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to : … (b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
By engaging in multiple acts of dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, including sending fraudulent billing statements to the fiancée, using misappropriated personal information in attempts to withdraw money from her bank account, fraudulently entering her bank account to withdraw money from the account, establishing a solo law practice while employed by the law firm without disclosing the solo practice or providing an accounting of fees earned in the practice, failing to disclose the separate solo practice or fees earned in that practice in his bankruptcy schedules, and giving false testimony under oath during bankruptcy proceedings, Schoenecker violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which provides, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … (c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
By failing to notify the OLR or the clerk of the supreme court in writing and in a timely fashion of his convictions in Walworth and Waukesha counties, Schoenecker violated SCR 21.15(5), as enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f). SCR 21.15(5) provides, “An attorney found guilty or convicted of any crime on or after July 1, 2002, shall notify in writing the office of lawyer regulation and the clerk of the Supreme Court within 5 days after the finding or conviction, whichever first occurs. The notice shall include the identity of the attorney, the date of finding or conviction, the offenses, and the jurisdiction. An attorney’s failure to notify the office of lawyer regulation and clerk of the supreme court of being found guilty or his or her conviction is misconduct.” SCR 21.15(5) is enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f), which provides, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … (f) violate a statute, supreme court rule, supreme court order, or supreme court decision regulating the conduct of lawyers.”
Schoenecker had no prior discipline.
Public reprimand of Sarah Clemment
The OLR and Sarah Clemment, Madison, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on June 24, 2011, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
In December 2005, Clemment agreed to represent a woman who was making an asylum application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Following an asylum interview, the client was placed in removal proceedings before the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review (immigration court). The immigration court set a final hearing date of Jan. 30, 2008, to consider the client’s asylum application, as well as her removability from the United States.
On Jan. 28, 2008, the client came to Clemment’s office to discuss the hearing. According to the client, Clemment told her that the date of the final hearing was Jan. 31, 2008, and that Clemment would not attend the hearing without being paid outstanding attorney fees. Clemment denied telling the client the hearing was on Jan. 31, 2008, but the client paid the fees, and on Jan. 31, 2008, Clemment and the client traveled together to Chicago to appear before an immigration judge. On arrival, however, Clemment and the client learned that the scheduled hearing had taken place on Jan. 30, 2008, and the immigration judge had entered an in absentia order denying asylum, denying withholding of removal, and ordering the client’s deportation to her home country.
In response to the immigration court’s order, Clemment filed a motion to reopen proceedings. In the motion, Clemment stated that she had advised the client that she would not be able to represent her at the Jan. 30, 2008, hearing. In addition, Clemment made statements in her motion that implied that the client had appeared at the hearing on Jan. 31, 2008 (the wrong date) and without her attorney. Clemment did not submit a filing fee with her motion to reopen nor did she file any affidavits or supporting evidence as required by the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA). Because Clemment had acknowledged that the client had received notice of the Jan. 30, 2008, hearing, and because no evidence supported a finding that the client had been misinformed of the hearing date, the court denied the motion to reopen.
Thereafter, Clemment filed a notice of appeal with the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In her notice of appeal, Clemment did not file a required notice of entry of appearance form, nor did Clemment submit a brief, notwithstanding written notice from the BIA that failure to file a written brief might result in summary dismissal of the appeal.
In March 2009, the client repeatedly telephoned Clemment seeking information on the status of her case. In response, Clemment wrote the client and informed her that her case had been denied, and that there was nothing further Clemment could do on the case. At the time, however, the BIA had not yet made a decision on the appeal. In response to inquiries from successor counsel, Clemment acknowledged that she told the client that her case had been denied, to force her to obtain new counsel. At no time did Clemment formally withdraw from representing the client.
Clemment’s failure to take positive and meaningful steps to represent the client in asylum and removal proceedings, including failing to follow statutory requirements in filing motions and appeals with the immigration court and the BIA, violated SCR 20:1.1, which states, “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
Clemment’s failure to appear at the client’s final hearing to consider her asylum application and removability, as well as Clemment’s failure to timely advance the client’s interests, violated SCR 20:1.3, which states, “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.”
By submitting to the immigration court a motion to reopen the hearing that implied that the client had appeared at the hearing on Jan. 31, 2008 without her attorney, when in fact Clemment had traveled with the client to the hearing and attempted to
appear on her behalf, Clemment violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which states, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
By communicating information to the client that her case had been denied and that there was nothing further that Clemment could do for her, when the decision on the case had not yet been made, Clemment violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), which states, “A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter.”
Disciplinary proceeding against Terrence J. Woods
In a decision dated June 23, 2011, the supreme court suspended the law license of Terrence J. Woods, Oconto Falls, for six months. The court also ordered Woods to pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Woods, 2011 WI 46.
Woods’ misconduct related to representation of a client in a civil matter and two traffic cases. In the civil matter, the client hired Woods in May 2008 to defend him in a suit for damages. However, Woods failed to file a timely answer to the complaint and did not seek an extension from the court or opposing counsel. At the default judgment hearing, Woods told the court that he had been hired after the deadline for filing an answer had passed. This was a misrepresentation because Woods had received a copy of the complaint before the answer deadline. Following entry against the client of default judgment in the amount of $10,124.47, Woods took no further action on the client’s behalf.
During the same period, the client also hired Woods to represent him in two traffic cases. The court scheduled a trial on both cases for Aug. 11, 2008. Woods did not inform the client of the trial date nor did Woods advise the client that beginning Aug. 11, 2008, he was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days. Although Woods sent a letter (by regular mail) to the client indicating that he was suspended, the client did not receive the letter before the Aug. 11, 2008 trial date. Because neither Woods nor the client appeared at the trial, the court entered a default judgment against the client in both traffic cases.
By failing to file a timely answer or timely request an extension from the court and opposing counsel, and by failing to take meaningful action to protect the client’s interests once notified the court had scheduled an Aug. 11, 2008, trial on the traffic citations, when he knew he would not be able to appear because of his law license suspension, Woods violated SCR 20:1.3, which provides, “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.”
By informing the court he had received the complaint from the client in the civil matter after the deadline for filing an answer had passed, when in fact he had received the complaint before the deadline, Woods violated SCR 20:3.3(a)(1), which provides, in relevant part, that a lawyer shall not knowingly “make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer.”
By failing to notify the client by certified mail of his suspension, and, in addition, by failing to provide appropriate written notice of his suspension to opposing counsel, Woods violated SCR 22.26(1), which provides in part:
“On or before the effective date of license suspension or revocation, an attorney whose license is suspended or revoked shall do all of the following:
“(a) Notify by certified mail all clients being represented in pending matters of the suspension or revocation and of the attorney’s consequent inability to act as an attorney following the effective date of the suspension or revocation.
“(b) Advise the clients to seek legal advice of their choice elsewhere.
“(c) Promptly provide written notification to the court or administrative agency and the attorney for each party in a matter pending before a court or administrative agency of the suspension or revocation and of the attorney’s consequent inability to act as an attorney following the effective date of the suspension or revocation. The notice shall identify the successor attorney of the attorney’s client or, if there is none at the time notice is given, shall state the client’s place of residence.…”
SCR 22.26(1) is enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f), which states that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “violate a statute, supreme court rule, supreme court order or supreme court decision regulating the conduct of lawyers.”
By failing to make the disclosure required by SCR 22.26(1), and by failing to timely advise the client of the trial date for the traffic cases, Woods violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and SCR 20:1.4(b). SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) provides, “(a) A lawyer shall … keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter.” SCR 20:1.4(b) provides, “A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.”
Woods’ disciplinary history includes a one-year suspension in 2009, a 90-day suspension in 2008, a public reprimand in 2003, two 60-day suspensions in 1998, a private reprimand in 1996, and a public reprimand in 1993.
Petition to reinstate William H. Wenzel
On Sept. 17, 1987, the supreme court granted Wenzel’s petition for voluntary revocation of his law license, based on Wenzel’s statement that he was unable to defend successfully against professional misconduct allegations being investigated against him.
In 1997, the supreme court denied a previous reinstatement petition filed by Wenzel.
To be reinstated, Wenzel has the burden of substantiating by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that 1) he has the moral character to practice law in Wisconsin, 2) his resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the administration of justice or subversive of the public interest, 3) all his representations in his reinstatement petition are substantiated, and 4) he has complied fully with the terms of the order of suspension and with SCR 22.26.
Relevant information may be provided to or obtained from OLR investigator Emily Kokie or OLR assistant litigation counsel Sheryl St. Ores, 110 E. Main St., Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703. The OLR’s toll-free telephone number is (877) 315-6941.
Public reprimand of Anne Bowe
On June 24, 2011, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Anne Bowe, Milwaukee, for conduct arising from a single client matter. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Bowe, 2011 WI 48. The court ordered Bowe to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding.
A woman hired Bowe to handle her divorce. Bowe mailed a copy of the summons and petition for divorce to the husband at the marital residence, along with an acknowledgement of service of the summons and petition for divorce for him to execute and return. He never executed the acknowledgement of service, and Bowe never received an executed acknowledgement of service. As a result, the circuit court lacked personal jurisdiction.
Despite knowing the husband had not been served, Bowe signed and filed a certificate of compliance with statutory requirements, which stated “[t]he summons and petition were served on the respondent via the U.S. Postal Service on 03-13-06….” (Service of a summons and petition for divorce by U.S mail is not authorized by Wisconsin statute or common law to secure personal jurisdiction over a respondent in a divorce action.) In the same document, Bowe certified to the court “[a]ll … parties in this action have been served with a copy of this certificate of compliance.” Bowe, however, had never served the certificate of compliance.
Bowe prepared an order for a pretrial conference, which was required to be, but was not, served on the husband. The husband did not appear at the conference, at which the court set a temporary-orders motion hearing and a trial date.
The husband moved from the marital residence on or about July 11, 2006. Knowing this, Bowe mailed notices for the husband exclusively to the marital residence. Bowe never notified the husband of the trial date.
Bowe knew the circuit court lacked personal jurisdiction over the husband, but she allowed the court to grant a default judgment without notifying the court of the lack of jurisdiction.
Bowe prepared the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment of divorce. The judgment stated “all necessary parties have been duly served and ordered to appear,” when Bowe knew this to be untrue.
The husband subsequently reopened the divorce judgment.
Bowe violated SCR 20:1.3, by failing to properly serve the husband; SCR 20:3.4(c), by knowingly failing to serve the summons and petition for divorce as required by statute and by prosecuting the case to judgment without informing the court of the jurisdictional defect; SCR 20:8.4(c), by signing and filing a false certificate of compliance; SCR 20:3.5(b), by failing to serve or send to the husband divorce pleadings or notices she filed with the court; and SCR 20:3.3(a)(1),
by drafting and submitting in her proposed judgment that “all necessary parties have been duly served and ordered to appear” and by submitting that proposed judgment to the court for execution when she knew the statement was false.
Bowe has practiced since 1980. She received a private reprimand in 1993.
Petition to reinstate John A. Chavez
A public hearing will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011, at 9 a.m. before referee Lisa Claire Goldman at the OLR offices, 110 E. Main St., Ste. 315, Madison, on the petition of John A. Chavez, Cambridge, to have his Wisconsin law license reinstated. Any interested person may appear at the hearing and be heard in support of or in opposition to the reinstatement petition.
On Dec. 14, 2005, the supreme court indefinitely suspended Chavez’s law license because of medical incapacity.
To be reinstated, Chavez has the burden of substantiating by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that 1) he has the moral character to practice law in Wisconsin, 2) his resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the administration of justice or subversive of the public interest, 3) all his representations in his reinstatement petition are substantiated, and 4) he has complied fully with the terms of the order of suspension and with SCR 22.26.
Relevant information may be provided to or obtained from OLR investigator Mary A. Ahlstrom or OLR assistant litigation counsel Julie M. Spoke, 110 E. Main St., Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703. The OLR’s toll-free telephone number is (877) 315-6941.
Public reprimand of James C.W. Bock
The OLR and James C.W. Bock, Hudson, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on July 15, 2011, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
Bock graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1998 and has been licensed to practice law in Wisconsin since October 1998. In December 2006, Bock filed an application for admission to the bar of Minnesota based on Rule 7A of the Minnesota Rules for Admission to the Bar, which permits an attorney in good standing in another state who has been active in the practice of law for a minimum of five years to become licensed in Minnesota without sitting for the bar examination. Bock was notified that he did not meet the requirements under Rule 7A because he had not practiced law in Wisconsin continuously for five years.
Bock sat for, but did not pass, the July 2007 Minnesota bar examination and sat for, but did not pass, the July 2008 Minnesota bar examination.
During 2004, Bock performed legal work for Minnesota clients as an independent contractor for an attorney licensed to practice in Minnesota but not Wisconsin (Attorney A). On Attorney A’s letterhead, Bock was listed as “of counsel” and “licensed only in Wisconsin.” During the time he was “of counsel,” Bock gave legal advice to clients, signed and filed pleadings with various district courts, and sought pro hac vice admission on behalf of several clients.
In July 2006, Attorney A and a second attorney (Attorney B) formed a law firm. Attorney B was licensed to practice law in Minnesota but not Wisconsin. Bock worked with both attorneys and provided legal services to clients in Minnesota. In August 2006, Bock and Attorney B formed a law firm. Under the articles of incorporation, Bock and Attorney B were equal partners. The firm maintained an office only in Minneapolis.
Bock was admitted pro hac vice in 11 matters in Minnesota. He also provided legal services in at least three other matters in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility determined that via the conduct described above, Bock “engaged in the unauthorized practice of law through his systematic and continuous practice of law, whether by repeated pro hac vice admission, acting ‘of counsel,’ and otherwise practicing in Minnesota through the [law firm he formed with Attorney B],” which violated the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC), including but not limited to Rule 5.5(b)(1). Bock and the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility entered into a stipulation for probation.
By engaging in conduct that violated MRPC Rule 5.5(b)(1), Bock violated Wisconsin SCR 20:5.5(a), which states, “A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction where doing so violates the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction.”
Bock has no prior discipline.
Disciplinary proceeding against David V. Jennings III
On June 23, 2011, the supreme court reinstated the law license of David V. Jennings III. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jennings, 2011 WI 45. Jennings, who had been admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1975, filed a petition for voluntary revocation of his law license in December 1992. Jennings acknowledged he could not successfully defend against allegations he had converted $550,000 from two companies, MCW and SS, which he had been appointed to represent in bankruptcy proceedings. The court revoked Jennings’ law license in January 1993. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jennings, 172 Wis. 2d 638, 493 N.W.2d 375 (1993).
In August 1993, Jennings pleaded guilty and was convicted in federal court of two counts of embezzlement and two counts of making false entries in bankruptcy estates. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and was ordered to make restitution of $590,200 in installment payments. In 1997, Jennings sold his Mequon real estate. Jennings’ father and his late mother’s estate received approximately $93,000 of the sale proceeds. His former law firm, its malpractice insurance carrier, and another company, DSI, which had paid the bulk of the restitution to MCW and SS, received as partial restitution the remaining proceeds amounting to $152,520. Jennings was ordered to pay $39,760 to the MCW employee-stock-ownership trust, and Jennings’ wages were garnished. As of October 2010, the balance of the court-ordered restitution had been reduced to $3,010.
From March 1995 through December 1999, Jennings was employed by the HM furniture company in its Milwaukee stores as store manager and credit manager. From January 2000 through 2010, Jennings was employed by the FCC furniture store at various Racine and Milwaukee locations as store manager.
On Oct. 6, 1999, Jennings filed his first reinstatement petition. After investigation by the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility (BAPR), the predecessor to the OLR, and following a public hearing, Jennings withdrew his petition. On Nov. 12, 2007, Jennings filed a second reinstatement petition, which the court denied on March 24, 2009, because of Jennings’ failure to completely comply with his restitution obligations. On March 15, 2010, Jennings filed a third reinstatement petition.
Following a hearing, the supreme court referee concluded that Jennings failed to satisfy by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence all the reinstatement standards under SCR 22.29(4). Although the court approved and adopted the referee’s findings of fact, the court did not agree with the referee’s legal conclusions that Jennings failed to satisfy all the requirements of SCR 22.29. Instead, the court found that the record established clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that Jennings had satisfied all the requisites for reinstatement of his Wisconsin law license, subject to conditions relating to his continuing obligations of restitution. Accordingly, the court granted his petition subject to conditions and the payment of the costs of the reinstatement proceedings.
The conditions require Jennings to 1) complete the court-ordered restitution to the MCW employee-stock-ownership trust; 2) annually provide the OLR with financial and tax information until all restitution is made; 3) meet regularly with the OLR to reach a plan for repayment or settlement of the $397,680, plus interest, to members of his former law firm, the malpractice insurer, and DSI, when his court-ordered restitution is completed; 4) maintain a life insurance policy on himself, naming the members of his former law firm as beneficiaries, until his obligations are paid in full or settled, and provide the OLR with proof of compliance; 5) cooperate fully with any court-appointed review of the matter; and 6) meet with the OLR within 60 days of his reinstatement to arrange for the terms of payment of costs of this and the earlier disciplinary proceedings.
Disciplinary proceeding against Christopher A. Mutschler
On July 14, 2011, the supreme court revoked the law license of Christopher A. Mutschler, formerly of Fond du Lac, and ordered Mutschler to pay restitution to clients harmed by his actions. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Mutschler, 2011 WI 74. Mutschler was admitted to the practice of law in Wisconsin in 1991. His license has been temporarily suspended since March 2010 because of his willful failure to cooperate with the OLR’s investigations concerning his conduct.
In August 2010, Mutschler filed a petition for the consensual revocation of his license indicating that he could not defend against the charges in 59 separate OLR investigations pending against him, involving multiple rules and many counts of misconduct. Nearly all the grievances against Mutschler followed a similar pattern: Mutschler would obtain payment of an advance fee to represent a client in a traffic, operating while intoxicated, or criminal case. Mutschler would often advise the client to enter a no-contest plea and promise that he would win the case on appeal. In many cases, Mutschler would either fail to appear at a hearing or fail to notify his client of a hearing, often leading to a default judgment against the client. In other cases, the client would enter a guilty or no-contest plea, but Mutschler would then either fail to file an appeal or fail to prosecute the appeal properly, which would lead to the dismissal of the appeal. In nearly all the cases, the clients alleged that Mutschler failed to adequately communicate with them.
In addition to this pattern of conduct, Mutschler engaged in criminal conduct. In 2008, pursuant to a plea agreement, Mutschler pleaded no contest to a charge of uttering a forgery, a felony, and to a charge of possession of an illegally obtained prescription medication, a misdemeanor. These charges stemmed from Mutschler forging prescription forms and using such forms to obtain pain medication.
In its order revoking Mutschler’s license, the court further ordered that Mutschler pay restitution totaling $246,723 in 45 of the 59 investigations. This restitution is to be made within 180 days, either directly to the client harmed or as reimbursement to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, as appropriate.