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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. 85, No. 2, February 2012

    Public reprimand of Alf R.H.R. Langan

    The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Alf R.H.R. Langan, Green Bay, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A Wisconsin Supreme Court-appointed referee approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on Nov. 7, 2011. The reprimand is based on Langan’s conduct in two client matters.

    In the first matter, Langan sent an advertising letter to a married couple with tax debts. The letter misrepresented Langan’s experience. Langan’s false or misleading communications about his services violated former SCR 20:7.1(a) (in effect before July 1, 2007). Langan failed to label the letter as an advertisement and to file a copy of his letter with the OLR, both of which omissions violated former SCR 20:7.3(b) (in effect before July 1, 2007).

    The couple hired Langan in November 2006 to obtain the couple’s IRS file, prepare an offer in compromise (OIC) to the IRS, and attempt negotiations with the IRS. The clients paid Langan a flat fee of $3,000. Langan obtained the IRS file, but he did not attempt negotiations or file an OIC. In May 2007, the clients ended Langan’s representation and requested a refund of their fee. Langan declined to refund the fee. Langan later provided the OLR with an OIC he had prepared that contained only scant information.

    By failing to file an OIC or attempt negotiations, Langan failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness, contrary to SCR 20:1.3. By failing to refund any part of an unearned fee, Langan violated former SCR 20:1.16(d) (in effect before July 1, 2007) and current SCR 20:1.16(d). The Wisconsin Lawyers Fund for Client Protection (the fund) paid the clients $3,000. As a condition of the public reprimand, Langan repaid $3,000 to the fund.

    In the second matter, Langan represented a woman in postdivorce matters. The parties shared custody of their minor son. Langan’s client had primary placement. After Langan’s client was involved in some alcohol-related incidents, her ex-husband filed a motion seeking sole custody and placement. Four days before the hearing, Langan sent the ex-husband notice by certified mail that his client wanted to move out of state with the child; however, Langan’s notice did not contain the requisite reference to the certified mailing. Langan did not copy the court on the notice. The court awarded the ex-husband temporary sole custody and primary placement, while Langan’s client received supervised visitation and was ordered to get alcohol treatment. The court said it would review the situation only after treatment was concluded. The ex-husband formally objected to his ex-wife’s notice to move the child out of state.

    The client moved out of state but returned for supervised visitation. At the client’s request, Langan filed a motion to allow her to take the child out of state, although the client had only supervised visitation and had not yet fully completed her alcohol treatment. The court heard the motion, questioned whether statutory notice requirements were met, and instructed Langan to file a copy of the certified-mail receipt showing service on the father. Langan told the court he had given the receipt to his client, although Langan later found the receipt in the case file. The court found that statutory notice requirements had not been met, and the court refused to hear the woman’s request to move the son out of state.

    The parties later reached an agreement giving Langan’s client periods of unsupervised placement during the school year and placement during the summer. Langan’s client wanted Langan to continue to seek primary placement or placement during the school year. A hearing was held, but the court refused to make changes. Langan then told the client, who had already paid Langan almost $27,000 in fees and owed $11,000 more, that if she wanted to pursue placement, she had to pay her legal bill and an advance toward future fees.

    Langan gave the client the name of a broker who could potentially provide the funds needed to pay Langan’s legal fees by buying the right to receive the remaining payments the client was owed under a 1988 structured settlement. Although the sale price was much lower than the total of the settlement payments, the client decided to proceed with the sale. The woman was required to be represented by counsel in the sale, and Langan agreed to represent her at no cost. Langan did not advise the client about any potential conflict between his interests in receiving the sale proceeds for his legal fees and the client’s interests in proceeding with the sale. Langan also failed to determine and accurately advise the client on the tax consequences of the sale, and he made errors in calculating the amount of the sale proceeds and the discount percentage.

    After the sale was arranged, Langan filed another motion asking the court to reconsider its decision on placement. Langan enclosed the missing certified-mail receipt that he had found six months earlier. Langan sent the motion to the court, opposing counsel, and the guardian ad litem on a Friday for a hearing scheduled for the following Tuesday. The notices were received on the day before the scheduled hearing. The court denied the motion for lack of timely service and said that Langan should have searched more diligently for the mail receipt.

    After the client paid Langan $14,000 from the settlement proceeds, and Langan provided some representation on other postdivorce matters, the client hired new counsel and moved back to Wisconsin. The client eventually asked Langan to resume representing her. Langan told the client that he would undertake new representation only if she signed a release absolving him from all liability for any alleged errors, acts, or omissions by him during his prior representation.

    Langan failed to provide competent representation, as required by SCR 20:1.1, in multiple respects, including providing inaccurate information on the structured settlement sale; failing to comply with notice requirements on moving a child out of state; and failing to provide statutory notice of a hearing. Langan violated SCR 20:1.7(b) when he represented the client in the sale for the purpose of paying his own fees without requisite consultation and obtaining written consent from the client regarding a potential conflict of interest. Langan violated former SCR 20:1.8(h) (in effect before July 1, 2007), which prohibited him from making an agreement prospectively limiting his liability to a client for malpractice unless certain conditions were met.

    Langan had no prior discipline.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Craig M. Hunt

    On Oct. 5, 2011, the supreme court revoked the Wisconsin law license of Craig M. Hunt, Sausalito, Calif., as discipline reciprocal to that imposed against Hunt’s California law license. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Hunt, 2011 WI 91.

    Hunt’s California disbarment arose out of multiple acts of misconduct involving the unauthorized practice of law, moral turpitude, and violations of the conditions of his probation related to prior discipline imposed by the California Supreme Court, as described in In re Craig M. Hunt on Discipline, State Bar Court Case No. 02-O-14794 (02-O-15949; 03-O-311; 03-O-1352; 03-O-02422); 04-N-11190 Cons. Hunt also failed to notify the Wisconsin OLR of the California court’s imposition of public discipline within 20 days of its effective date.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Ronald L. Brandt

    On Oct. 5, 2011, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Ronald L. Brandt, Quincy, Mass., as discipline reciprocal to an April 8, 2010, public reprimand imposed on Brandt in Massachusetts. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Brandt, 2011 WI 92.

    The Massachusetts public reprimand arose out of Brandt’s misconduct in violating the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.2(a), 1.3, and 1.4. In October 2005, a Massachusetts client retained Brandt to represent him in a medical malpractice case. Brandt did not write or speak to the client from November 2005 through June 2008. Brandt decided not to pursue the case in August 2007, but he did not notify the client of the decision, return the client’s medical records, or advise the client of his right to consult other attorneys, of the statute of limitation, or of the consequences of failing to file suit by the end of the limitation period. Brandt did not take any steps to toll the statute of limitation for the client or otherwise protect his rights. In June 2008, the client went to Brandt’s office and learned that no case had been filed.

    Brandt had no prior Wisconsin discipline.

    Public reprimand of Daniel E. Olsen

    Daniel E. Olsen, Jefferson, agreed to a public reprimand by consent, as discipline reciprocal to a public censure imposed against Olsen’s Colorado law license by the Colorado Supreme Court on Jan. 31, 2011. Supreme Court of Colorado Case No.: 10PDJ030.

    The Colorado public reprimand arose out of Olsen’s violation of Colorado PRC 1.3 for failing to timely comply with a district court’s order that he prepare a stipulation for permanent orders in a dissolution matter.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Michael Pierski

    In a Dec. 7, 2011 decision, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Michael Pierski, Muskego. The court also ordered Pierski to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Pierski, 2011 WI 99.

    The reprimand was based on three counts of misconduct arising out of Pierski’s representation of a client in an ancillary probate matter. The client, who lived in California, was the special administrator for her parents’ estate, which included real property located in Milwaukee County. The client, via her California attorney, hired Pierski in April 2006 to transfer the Wisconsin property to a family trust. The California attorney sent Pierski various documents for his review at that time. When the client’s appointment as special administrator was approved by the California court in October 2006, the California attorney contacted Pierski to obtain the necessary documents to complete the transfer of the Wisconsin real property to the family trust. Pierski, however, did nothing to transfer the property.

    When the California attorney contacted Pierski for an update in January 2007, Pierski did not respond. For the next several months, the California attorney and the client repeatedly contacted Pierski for information, but Pierski ignored their requests. Pierski’s representation was terminated, and the California attorney filed a grievance against Pierski. Pierski immediately turned over the file to successor counsel, but when he was directed by the OLR to provide a formal written response to the grievance, he was more than two months late in doing so. He also failed to timely respond to subsequent requests from the OLR for more information regarding his alleged misconduct.

    In the disciplinary action, Pierski stipulated that he had neglected the probate matter in violation of SCR 20:1.3, had failed to communicate with the client in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), and had failed to cooperate with the OLR investigation in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and (6), which are enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).

    Pierski had been privately reprimanded in 2003 for failing to promptly turn over funds to a client and failing to cooperate with an OLR investigation.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Alexis L. Michael

    On Nov. 4, 2011, the supreme court revoked the law license of Alexis L. Michael and ordered her to pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceedings. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Michael, 2011 WI 96.

    Michael’s revocation was based on 34 counts of misconduct, all of which arose out of Michael’s operation of a bed and breakfast in Oconomowoc and an apartment building in Watertown. Michael and her husband formed a variety of legal entities, some of which were involved in running the bed and breakfast and apartment building. In her management of the bed and breakfast, Michael used a variety of aliases in dealing with employees, service providers, and the Oconomowoc Police Department, often in an effort to evade payment of the bed and breakfast’s obligations.

    Among other acts of misconduct, Michael repeatedly made misrepresentations to employees, reporters, and suppliers, often about her identity, and made misrepresentations to law enforcement officers. Michael abused process, made misrepresentations to judicial officers, and made defamatory statements about persons to whom she owed money. She altered a court order and inserted scandalous material in pleadings. She failed to cooperate with, and made misrepresentations to, the OLR.

    Michael was found to have violated the following supreme court rules, some of them in multiple instances: SCR 20:3.1(a)(1) and (2); former SCR 20:3.1(a)(3); former SCR 20:3.3(a)(1) and (4); SCR 20:3.4(c); SCR 20:3.5(b); former SCR 20:4.4; SCR 20:8.4(a), (c), (f), and (h); and SCR 22.03(2) and (6).

    Michael had no prior discipline.

    Disciplinary proceeding against William R. Lamb

    On Dec. 16, 2011, the supreme court suspended the law license of William R. Lamb, Menomonie, for 60 days. The court approved a stipulation in which Lamb agreed to the 60-day suspension and to pay restitution to one client, complete 12 hours of continuing legal education credits relating to trust account requirements and ethics, and pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Lamb, 2011 WI 101.

    Lamb’s misconduct encompassed 21 counts of misconduct with respect to four separate client matters. In the first matter, Lamb represented a client in a guardianship matter involving four step-great-grandchildren. Lamb accepted a fee of $1,000 and, later, an additional fee of $2,500 from the client, but Lamb did not prepare a written fee agreement and did not place the funds in his trust account. The client sent multiple emails to Lamb asking questions about the case. Lamb did not respond to most of the emails. During the representation, Lamb’s law license was suspended for failure to comply with CLE requirements, but Lamb did not advise the client or the court of his suspension. The client also attempted several times to meet with Lamb at his office, but Lamb refused to respond to her knocks on his office door even though it appeared he was in his office. Lamb also cancelled office appointments without good reason. The client obtained new counsel, and Lamb refused to provide a copy of his file, refund unearned fees, or provide an accounting of his fees. Lamb also failed to cooperate with the OLR investigation.

    By failing to reasonably consult with the client regarding the means by which he intended to accomplish her objectives, Lamb violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(2). By failing on several occasions to inform the client regarding the status of critical events during the guardianship and visitation proceedings, including his suspension from the practice of law, Lamb failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter, in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).

    By failing to respond to multiple emails, telephone calls, and attempted office visits seeking information and guidance regarding the guardianship and visitation proceedings, Lamb failed to promptly comply with the client’s reasonable requests for information in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(4). By failing to reasonably consult with the client about his plans and strategy regarding the guardianship proceedings and related litigation, Lamb failed to explain matters to the extent reasonably necessary to permit her to make informed decisions regarding the representation, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(b).

    By accepting a fee of $3,500 without a written fee agreement, Lamb failed to communicate in writing the purpose and effect of any retainer or advanced fee paid to him in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(2). By accepting $3,500 in advanced fee payments from the client and failing to hold the payments in trust, without complying with the notice, accounting, and arbitration requirements of SCR 20:1.15(b)(4), Lamb failed to hold in trust unearned fees and advanced payments of fees in violation of SCR 20:1.15(b)(4).

    By failing to surrender papers and property to which the client was entitled and by failing to either account for or refund advanced payments that had not been earned or incurred, Lamb violated SCR 20:1.16(d).

    By failing to cooperate with the OLR’s District Committee 8 investigation in the grievance matter, Lamb failed to cooperate with the OLR in the investigation, prosecution, and disposition of grievances in violation of SCR 22.04(1) and SCR 21.15(4), as enforced through SCR 20:8.4(h).

    The second matter involved Lamb’s representation of a client in a postdivorce proceeding. Lamb accepted an advanced fee of $750 from the client and later appeared on the client’s behalf by telephone at a hearing to consider child placement issues. After the court commissioner ordered mediation, the client was unable to contact Lamb by telephone or by going to his office. The client found new counsel and thereafter repeatedly attempted to obtain from Lamb an itemization of fees and costs for a potential refund. Lamb never provided the accounting and later refused to provide a copy of his file to the OLR.

    By failing to keep the client informed about the status of the child custody issues for which he had been retained, Lamb failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3). By failing to respond to multiple telephone calls and attempted office visits seeking information and guidance regarding the child custody issues, Lamb failed to promptly comply with the client’s reasonable requests for information, in violation of former SCR 20:1.4(a) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(4). By failing to respond to multiple telephone calls and attempted office visits seeking information regarding fees and expenses incurred in the matter, Lamb failed to promptly respond to the client’s requests for information concerning fees and expenses, in violation of SCR
    20:1.5(b)(3).

    By failing to cooperate with the OLR’s District Committee 8 investigation in the grievance matter, Lamb failed to cooperate with the OLR in the investigation, prosecution, and disposition of grievances, in violation of SCR 22.04(1) and SCR 21.15(4), as enforced through SCR 20:8.4(h).

    In the third matter, Lamb agreed to represent a client who was charged with speeding and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Lamb accepted an advanced fee of $1,000 but did not place the fees in his trust account. He thereafter negotiated a plea agreement with the prosecutor. The client contacted Lamb repeatedly to obtain copies of the paperwork associated with the plea. The client also asked for an itemized statement from Lamb. After almost a year of failed attempts to reach Lamb, the client filed a grievance. Lamb then failed to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation and did not produce requested documents.

    By accepting a $1,000 advanced fee payment from the client and failing to hold the advance in trust (with no evidence that he intended to use the alternative fee placement permitted by SCR 1.15(b)(4m)), Lamb failed to hold in trust unearned fees and advanced payments of fees, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(b)(4).

    By failing to respond to the client’s multiple telephone calls seeking information regarding his fee and a request for an itemized bill and by failing to forward to the client copies of documents and pleadings after promising to do so, Lamb failed to promptly comply with the client’s reasonable requests for information, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(4).

    By failing to respond to the client’s repeated attempts to obtain information concerning fees and expenses, and by failing to respond to an email requesting an invoice in the matter, Lamb failed to promptly respond to the client’s request for information concerning fees and expenses, in violation of SCR
    20:1.5(b)(3).

    By failing to timely provide relevant information to the OLR during its investigation of the grievance, and by failing to answer questions fully or otherwise provide requested information, Lamb failed to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to alleged misconduct, to answer questions and furnish documents, and to present information deemed relevant to the OLR’s investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and SCR 22.03(6), which are enforceable under the Rules of Professional Conduct through SCR 20:8.4(h).

    In the final matter, Lamb agreed to represent a client in a small-claims lawsuit against his neighbors and was paid a $700 flat fee. The client did not hear from Lamb again and called Lamb once a week for the next eight months and travelled to Lamb’s law office several times but was unable to speak with Lamb. After filing a grievance, Lamb did not respond to the OLR’s investigation. The OLR then filed a motion with the court seeking an order to show cause why Lamb’s law license should not be temporarily suspended. Only after the issuance of a show-cause order did Lamb respond to the OLR’s investigation.

    By failing to file a small-claims lawsuit on behalf of the client or to advance his interests in any meaningful manner, Lamb failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3.

    By failing to keep the client reasonably informed regarding the status of the matter and to respond to his repeated requests for information regarding the lawsuit, Lamb failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), and failed to promptly comply with the client’s reasonable requests for information, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(4). By failing to provide any meaningful information to the client regarding the client’s efforts to pursue a small-claims lawsuit against his neighbors over a 16-month period, Lamb failed to explain matters to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(b).

    By accepting and keeping a $700 fee for representation that he did not complete, Lamb collected an unreasonable fee in violation of SCR 20:1.5(a).

    By failing to timely provide relevant information to the OLR during its investigation of the client’s grievance, Lamb failed to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to alleged misconduct, failed to answer questions and furnish documents, and failed to present information deemed relevant to the investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and SCR 22.03(6), which are enforceable under the Rules of Professional Conduct through SCR 20:8.4(h).

    Lamb’s disciplinary history includes a 1997 private reprimand and a 2003 private reprimand.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Ronald K. Niesen

    On Nov. 4, 2011, the supreme court suspended the law license of Ronald K. Niesen, Waunakee, for nine months. The court also ordered Niesen to pay restitution to a client and pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Niesen, 2011 WI 97.

    Niesen’s misconduct related to his representation of a client and his abandonment of his law practice. In 2009, a woman hired Niesen for specific estate-planning services, including the preparation of a deed necessary to transfer property. The client paid Niesen $900, but he failed to perform any work on her behalf. He also ignored the client’s repeated telephone calls and other requests for information. Niesen also never returned the client’s fee and did not inform her that his license became suspended following his failure to comply with CLE requirements.

    During this period, Niesen abandoned his law practice, necessitating the appointment of an attorney to enter his office and handle existing client files and property. The attorney found client files abandoned and in disarray, no computers, and piles of trust account information and unanswered mail. A trustee attorney was appointed pursuant to SCR 12.01. Niesen subsequently failed to respond to the OLR’s inquiries in the matter, resulting in his suspension for failing to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation. Niesen also failed to notify the State Bar of his new address and failed to take action to contact existing clients or protect client files.

    By failing to complete the deed preparation and property transfer work for his client, and thereafter abandoning his practice, Niesen failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness, in violation of SCR 20:1.3.

    By failing to keep the client informed regarding the status of the matter and respond to her requests for information, Niesen violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4).

    By failing to inform the client that he would not be able to act as her attorney during his suspension from the practice of law, Niesen violated SCR 22.26(1)(a) and (b).

    By failing to notify the client of the suspension of his law license and the abandonment of his law office, and by failing to refund the client’s fee, Niesen failed to take postrepresentation steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(d).

    By abandoning his law practice without taking steps to ensure the confidentiality of the information in all clients’ files, Niesen violated SCR 20:1.6(a).

    By abandoning his law practice without providing notice to the State Bar of his change of address, Niesen violated SCR 10.03(2), enforceable through SCR 20:8.4(f).

    By failing to respond to the OLR’s investigation into the grievance matter and its investigation into the abandonment of his law practice, Niesen failed to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to alleged misconduct, failed to answer questions and furnish documents, and failed to present information deemed relevant to the investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and SCR 22.03(6), which are enforceable through SCR 20:8.4(h).

    Niesen’s disciplinary history includes a private reprimand in 2008.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Robert J. Smead

    On Dec. 20, 2011, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Robert J. Smead, Menasha. The court also ordered Smead to pay restitution to a former client. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Smead, 2011 WI 102.

    Smead’s misconduct related to his representation of a client who hired Smead to represent him in a criminal matter. The client paid Smead $1,500 for the representation in 2007, and Smead filed a notice of appearance in the criminal case. In October 2007, the court suspended Smead for failing to cooperate in an OLR investigation. Smead failed to advise his client of the suspension of his law license and his inability to appear at an upcoming hearing in the criminal case. Smead missed the hearing, and the trial court appointed new counsel. Thereafter, Smead failed to provide the client an accounting of fees advanced and a refund of any unearned fees. Smead also failed to respond to the client’s postrepresentation requests for information about fees. The client filed a grievance against Smead, and Smead failed to respond to the OLR’s letters seeking a response to the grievance.

    By failing to notify the client of the suspension of his law license and his consequent inability to appear at the client’s scheduled hearing or otherwise participate in the client’s defense, Smead violated SCR 22.26(1)(a) and (b). By failing to provide to the client an accounting and a refund of unearned fees, and to respond to the client’s postrepresentation requests for information, Smead failed to take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests upon termination of representation, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(d). By failing to provide to the OLR a written response to the grievance, Smead failed to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to alleged misconduct, failed to answer questions and furnish documents, and failed to present information deemed relevant to the investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and SCR 22.03(6), which are enforceable under SCR 20:8.4(h).

    The court ordered Smead to make restitution to the client of $1,500, plus interest. Because Smead initially filed a stipulation in the case, and later filed an answer admitting all allegations in the OLR’s complaint and took the steps the OLR suggested to bring the matter to a swift conclusion, the OLR did not seek to assess the cost of the proceeding against Smead.

    Smead’s disciplinary history consists of consecutive 60-day license suspensions imposed in 2010. 




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