Wisconsin Lawyer: Private Reprimand Summaries:

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    Private Reprimand Summaries

    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. 6, June 2012

    Criminal Act (OWI 2nd) that Reflects Adversely on Lawyer's Fitness to Practice

    Violation of SCR 20:8.4(b)

    An attorney was convicted in March 2011 of misdemeanor second-offense operating while under the influence, following a November 2010 traffic stop. The attorney failed to stop at a flashing red light and failed field-sobriety tests. The attorney's blood-alcohol level tested at 0.24. The attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which states, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."

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    Failure to Hold Client Funds in Trust

    Violation of SCR 20:1.15(b)(1)

    An attorney received from a client funds that potentially represented an advanced-fee payment. The attorney deposited the funds directly into his business account, with no evidence of an intent to use the alternative advanced-fee-placement measures stated in SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m), which allow such a deposit into a business account in some circumstances. The attorney then used the funds to pay a personal tax obligation. The attorney also transferred certain of the client's funds from his trust account to his business account without the client's understanding at the time of the transfer that the transferred funds represented a fee payment. In each instance, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), which states, "A lawyer shall hold in trust, separate from the lawyer's own property, that property of clients and 3rd parties that is in the lawyer's possession in connection with a representation." The client stated that at no time did he feel taken advantage of by the attorney, and that he was satisfied with the accounting ultimately provided by the attorney.

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    Lack of Diligence; Lack of Communication; Failure to Surrender Papers and Property and Return a Fee; Failure to Respond to Disciplinary Agency

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3, 20:1.4(a) and (b), 20:1.16(d), and 8.4(g)

    An attorney licensed to practice law in both Wisconsin and another jurisdiction consented to a private reprimand pursuant to SCR 20:8.5 and SCR 22.22, as reciprocal discipline following findings by disciplinary officials in the other jurisdiction that the attorney violated its rules comparable to SCR 20:1.3 (lack of diligence), SCR 20:1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed), SCR 20:1.4(b) (failure to allow a client to make an informed decision), SCR 20:1.16(d) (failure to surrender papers or property and refund fees), and SCR 20:8.4(g) (failure to respond to a grievance investigation) in two grievance matters.

    The attorney was retained to represent a client in obtaining a trademark for a business. The client paid the attorney $500 to cover the cost of trademark processing. The client attempted to contact the attorney on numerous occasions, over a period of several months, to check on the status of the trademark. The attorney failed to return the client's calls and email messages. The attorney did not complete his representation of the client in seeking the trademark, failed to return the client's legal records, failed to reimburse to the client any portion of the $500 fee, and failed to respond, in writing, to the official inquiry by the other jurisdiction's disciplinary officials.

    The attorney was also retained to represent a client in a tax matter. The client paid the attorney a $300 fee to handle the representation. Despite the fact that the client left several messages, the attorney only returned one telephone call. The attorney did not inform the client of the status of the case, did not perform the legal services for the client, moved and did not provide the client with a forwarding address, and did not return to the client any of the $300 fee. The attorney failed to respond, in writing, to the official inquiry by the other jurisdiction's disciplinary officials.

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    Depositing Earned Fees into a Trust Account; Making Cash Withdrawals from a Trust Account; Failure to Maintain a Business Account; Failure to Maintain Trust-Account Records; Filing False Trust-Account Certifications

    Violations of SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), (e)(4) and (8), (f)(1), and (i)(2) and (4)

    An attorney attempted to cash an $1,800 money order in payment of earned fees, but the attorney's bank would not cash it until the funds cleared. Because the attorney did not have a business account, the money order was deposited into the trust account. On the following business day, a Monday, the attorney made a $1,000 cash withdrawal from the trust account. Because the deposit was not yet available, an overdraft resulted. The OLR subsequently discovered that there had been nine cash withdrawals from the trust account, totaling nearly $4,500, during the two-month period that was the focus of the OLR's investigation. The attorney was not maintaining a transaction register or client ledgers. Despite the failure to maintain those records, the attorney had certified on at least two occasions that the records required by SCR 20:1.15(f) were being kept.

    By regularly depositing earned fees into a trust account, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), which states, "No funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm, except funds reasonably sufficient to pay monthly account service charges, may be deposited or retained in a trust account." By making cash withdrawals from the trust account, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)a., which states, "No disbursement of cash shall be made from a trust account ...." By failing to maintain a business account, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(8), which states, "Each lawyer who receives trust funds shall maintain at least one draft account, other than the trust account, for funds received and disbursed other than in the lawyer's trust capacity, which shall be entitled ‘Business Account,' ... or words of similar import." By failing to maintain a transaction register and client ledgers, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(f)(1) a. and b., which states as follows: "Complete records of a trust account that is a draft account shall include a transaction register; [and] individual client ledgers for IOLTA accounts and other pooled trust accounts ..., subject to all of the following:

    "a. The transaction register shall contain a chronological record of all account transactions, and shall include all of the following: 1. the date, source, and amount of all deposits; 2. the date, check or transaction number, payee and amount of all disbursements, whether by check, wire transfer, or other means; 3. the date and amount of every other deposit or deduction of whatever nature; 4. the identity of the client for whom funds were deposited or disbursed; and 5. the balance in the account after each transaction; and

    "b. A subsidiary ledger shall be maintained for each client or 3rd party for whom the lawyer receives trust funds that are deposited in an IOLTA account or any other pooled trust account. The lawyer shall record each receipt and disbursement of a client's or 3rd party's funds and the balance following each transaction."

    Finally, by filing two annual trust-account certifications, certifying that he had complied with each of the record-keeping requirements in SCR 20:1.15(f), when he was not maintaining a transaction register or client ledgers, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(i)(2) and (4), which state as follows: "Each state bar member shall explicitly certify on the state bar certificate ... that the member has complied with each of the record-keeping requirements set forth in subs. (f) and (j)(5)," and "The filing of a false certificate is unprofessional conduct and is grounds for disciplinary action."

    The private reprimand was conditioned on the attorney's attending an OLR trust-account seminar, closing the existing trust account, and agreeing that, in the event funds are received in trust in the future, the attorney will establish a business account and a new trust account and file an overdraft notification agreement with the OLR.

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Failure to Communicate with Client

    Violations of former SCR 20:1.4(a) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4)

    A woman hired an attorney in March 2003 to represent her in an appeal of the denial of a worker's compensation claim stemming from an alleged January 2003 work injury. In 2003, the attorney obtained copies of the woman's medical records and arranged for the woman to be examined by several medical providers. In the early part of 2004, the attorney received forms and records from the woman's physician affirming that the woman had some medical conditions that caused her pain on her job. Between late 2003 and June 2007, the attorney did not communicate with the woman regarding her claims.

    In June 2007, the woman's daughter contacted the attorney indicating that her mother had been experiencing some signs of Alzheimer's disease and requested that the attorney prepare a power of attorney (POA) document appointing the daughter as the woman's agent to act on her behalf in various matters. The attorney drafted the POA document pursuant to the woman's request, and the woman requested that the attorney try to pursue the worker's compensation case because there were still unpaid medical bills in the amount of $1,500. The attorney suggested hiring a medical expert, who examined the woman and forwarded his report to the woman in February 2008.

    Between February 2008 and February 2009, there was no communication by the attorney with the woman or her representative. In February 2009, the woman's daughter emailed the attorney's office inquiring as to the status of the worker's compensation claim and received no response from the attorney. In April 2009, the woman's daughter again wrote to the attorney complaining about the service she had received from his office and requested immediate action by the attorney. The attorney did not respond to the letter.

    In August 2009, after being notified of the grievance, the attorney wrote to the woman's daughter and advised her that he had reviewed her mother's file and determined that it was a claim he could not bring for her. The attorney also advised the woman's daughter regarding the applicable statute of limitation.

    The attorney did not keep the woman or her representative apprised of the case status, including information relating to the viability of the woman's claim, nor did the attorney or his office provide timely responses to status inquiries on a consistent basis. The attorney violated former SCR 20:1.4(a) (effective before July 1, 2007), which stated, "A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information" and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4) (effective July 1, 2007), which states, "A lawyer shall ... keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter; [and] promptly comply with reasonable requests by the client for information...."

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Lack of Competence; Failure to Consult with Client; Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate

    Violations of SCR 20:1.1, 20:1.2(a), 20:1.3, and 20:1.4(a)(2)-(4)

    An attorney represented a client in a postdivorce proceeding seeking to modify child support. After the court modified the support order in the client's favor, the client's former spouse filed a motion for reconsideration, and later two appeals challenging the amended divorce judgment and an order granting her former attorneys their fees and disbursements. The attorney promised the client that he would protect his interests during the appeal and accepted an additional fee to do so. Although the attorney did not have an interest in the former spouse's appeal regarding payment of attorney fees, the attorney was specifically advised in an appellate motion that he would be required to file a response brief to protect the client's interests regarding the modified child support order.

    The former spouse served the attorney with a copy of her brief-in-chief. However, the attorney failed to advise the client of the brief until more than 30 days had passed. Thereafter, the court of appeals issued a delinquency order expressly warning the attorney that failure to file a response brief could result in summary reversal of the circuit court order. The attorney did not advise the client of the delinquency order. According to the attorney, he believed that the circuit court decision was thorough and that the court of appeals was unlikely to make any summary or other changes to the decision. Thus, the attorney decided not to file a response brief. However, the attorney did not consult with the client regarding his strategy and the potential consequences of not filing a response brief.

    The court of appeals thereafter reversed and remanded the circuit court order that had modified child support in favor of the attorney's client. Following issuance of the appellate court decision, the attorney failed to apprise the client of the adverse decision. In addition, the attorney failed to respond to a specific request for information from the client regarding the appeal.

    By deciding not to file a responsive brief before the court of appeals, even after being advised in an appellate motion of the need to file a response brief, as well as being warned by the court that "the judgment or order appealed from will be disposed of summarily and may be summarily reversed under Rule 809.83(2)," the attorney failed to provide competent representation to the client, in violation of 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."

    By failing to abide by the client's decision to pursue an appeal and by failing to consult with the client regarding the means by which the objectives of the representation were to be pursued, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.2(a), which states, in relevant part, "Subject to pars. (c) and (d) a lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of the representation and, as required by SCR 20:1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued." In addition, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(2), which states, in relevant part, "A lawyer shall: ... [r]easonably consult with the client about the means by which the client's objectives are to be accomplished."

    By failing to file a responsive brief with the court of appeals, or otherwise take timely and effective means to protect the client's interests during the pendency of the appeal, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.3, which states, "A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client."

    By failing to notify the client in a timely fashion that the client's former spouse had filed her brief-in-chief, failing to apprise the client of the delinquency order, and failing to forward to the client in a timely fashion a copy of the court of appeals' opinion summarily reversing the circuit court decision based on the failure to file a responsive brief, the attorney failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), which states, "A lawyer shall: ... [k]eep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter; ..."

    By failing to respond to the client's specific request for information regarding the appeal, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(4), which states, "A lawyer shall ... [p]romptly comply with reasonable requests by the client for information."

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Criminal Act that Reflects Adversely on Lawyer's Fitness to Practice

    Violation of SCR 20:8.4(b)

    An attorney was convicted in August 2011 of misdemeanor reckless driving, following a July 2011 stop at a roadside-safety check point in Illinois. The attorney's blood-alcohol level tested at 0.241. The attorney was initially charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. The attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which states, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Criminal Act (OWI 3rd) that Reflects Adversely on Lawyer's Fitness to Practice

    Violation of SCR 20:8.4(b)

    An attorney was convicted in September 2011 of misdemeanor third-offense operating while under the influence, following a February 2011 traffic stop. The attorney's vehicle crossed the fog line on the right side of an exit ramp. The attorney failed field-sobriety tests and the attorney's blood-alcohol level tested at 0.218. The attorney's sentence included 90 days in jail with Huber privileges, driver's license revocation for 30 months, and a fine. The attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which states, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Failure to Have a Written Fee Agreement; Improper Contact with a Prospective Client

    Violations of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and 20:7.3(c)

    An attorney represented a man who was a plaintiff in a civil action. There was no written fee agreement communicating the scope of representation or the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client was responsible in the civil action.

    The attorney discovered after commencing the civil action that the defendant had died. The attorney wrote a letter to a surviving sister of the defendant stating that the attorney's client was a creditor of the defendant's estate and that the attorney was seeking someone to serve as a personal representative of the defendant's estate. The attorney asked the surviving sister if she would be willing to serve as the personal representative of the defendant's estate if the attorney's office completed the necessary paperwork. The attorney informed the surviving sister that all reasonable legal expenses and costs would be the responsibility of the estate.

    By failing to have a written fee agreement communicating the scope of representation and basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client was responsible in the civil action, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(1).

    By soliciting professional employment from a prospective client (the surviving sister) in a letter, without including the words "Advertising Material" at the beginning and ending of the letter, and failing to file a copy of the letter with the OLR within five days of its dissemination, the attorney violated SCR 20:7.3(c).

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Assisting a Client in Conduct the Lawyer Knows is Fraudulent; Engaging in Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation in a Probate Matter

    Violations of SCR 20:1.2(d) and 20:8.4(c)

    An attorney filed a petition for formal administration of the estate of a client's uncle. In doing so, the attorney filed form PR-1901, which has two boxes that afford an opportunity to provide information about the decedent's will. One box states that the decedent died leaving a will and that "I believe these documents were executed properly and are valid." The other box reads, "I have made diligent inquiry and I am unaware of any unrevoked will of the decedent and believe that the decedent died without a will." The attorney checked the latter box. At the bottom of the form was the notation, "This form shall not be modified. It may be supplemented with additional material."  

    In fact, both the attorney and the client knew the uncle had executed a will. The attorney and the client believed, however, that the will was invalid. The attorney should have supplemented the form with an explanation that although a will existed, the attorney and the client questioned its validity. The attorney's conduct violated SCR 20:1.2(d) and SCR 20:8.4(c).

    The attorney's misconduct was mitigated by the fact that the attorney gave notice of the petition to the attorney who had drafted the will and to the guardian of the uncle's estate.

    The attorney had a prior private reprimand and a prior 60-day suspension.

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    Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate with Client; Failure to Comply with Discovery; Failure to Provide Client Written Fee Agreement and Required Notices Regarding Handling of Advanced Fee; Failure to Obey Court Order; Late Response to OLR

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3, 20:1.4(a)(3), 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2), 20:1.15(b)(4m), 20:3.4(c) and (d), 20:8.4(h), and 22.03(2)

    An attorney received a private reprimand based on misconduct in two client matters.

    In the first matter, a divorce representation, the attorney accepted an advanced fee, which was deposited into a business account, and thereafter filed the divorce petition. Although the attorney believed the client was provided with the notice required to allow alternative treatment of the advance under SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m), the client denied receiving the notice. During the representation, the attorney failed to respond to repeated requests from opposing counsel for financial information, including the required financial disclosure statement and copies of the couple's tax returns. Further, the attorney failed to approve the temporary-terms order drafted by opposing counsel and did not provide the client with a copy of the order once it was entered several months later.

    Ultimately, the attorney was sanctioned $500 by the court based on the failure to provide information requested by opposing counsel. Despite the sanction, the attorney continued to fail to comply with discovery requests, necessitating a contempt hearing. The client terminated the representation and, shortly thereafter, requested an accounting of the funds he paid to the attorney. The attorney did not provide the accounting until three months later, when responding to the client's grievance.

    The attorney violated SCR 20:1.3 by failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in pursuing the client's divorce, SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) by failing to keep the client informed about the status of the divorce, and SCR 20:3.4(d) by failing to comply with legally proper discovery requests. With respect to the handling of the client's fee, the attorney failed to provide the client a written fee agreement as required by SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2) and, by not providing the proper notice at the outset of the representation or timely providing an accounting at the conclusion of the representation, did not meet the conditions set forth in SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m), which would have permitted the deposit of the client's advanced fee into the attorney's non-trust business account.

    In the second matter, the attorney represented a man in connection with the probate of his wife's estate. The wife had been murdered, and the man was a person of interest in his wife's death but was not charged with any crimes. A court order was in place prohibiting the man from selling or transferring to his name solely property he had owned with his wife or encumbering the title in any way. After the court order had been in place for one year and in contravention of the order, the attorney filed a document that transferred title of real property solely to the client's name. The court found that the transfer violated its order and directed that the property be returned to joint ownership. In addition, the court ordered that the man pay the estate's costs in bringing the motion to return the property to joint ownership.

    By filing the document transferring ownership of the real property solely to the client's name, in direct contravention of a court order, the attorney knowingly disobeyed an obligation under the rules of a tribunal, in violation of SCR 20:3.4(c). The attorney also, by failing to meet the initial deadline for providing a written response to the grievance, violated the standard set forth in SCR 22.03(2) that a written grievance response is required within 20 days of service of the grievance by the OLR. This standard is enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h), which states that it is misconduct for a lawyer to fail to cooperate with a grievance investigation.

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate; Failure on Termination of Representation to Refund an Advanced Payment of Fee or Expense; Failure to Deposit Funds into Client Trust Account

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3, former and current 20:1.4(a), 20:1.16(d), and former 20:1.15(b)(4)

    This private reprimand related to two matters. The first matter concerned the attorney being hired by a woman in September 2005 to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. Pursuant to a written flat-fee agreement, the woman provided the attorney with a check totaling $859, in payment of an attorney fee of $650 and an anticipated filing fee of $209. The attorney deposited the entire amount into his law office business account. The woman signed the bankruptcy petition and schedules on or about Sept. 12, 2005, and believed the attorney would be filing the bankruptcy papers in a month or so. After having heard nothing from the attorney and unaware of any developments in the bankruptcy, the woman wrote to the attorney in February 2006, inquiring about the status of her case. The woman also asked that the attorney contact a collection agency that had been calling and told the attorney that if he was not able to handle her bankruptcy, she wanted her money refunded so she could hire another attorney to do the job.

    The attorney did not respond to the woman's letter. After multiple phone calls to the attorney's office in February and March 2006, the woman spoke to the attorney, at which time the attorney informed the woman that a change in the bankruptcy law would require the woman to obtain credit counseling, and the attorney recommended a particular provider who could conduct the counseling by phone. The woman engaged in counseling with that provider on March 6, 2006, and on that same day the counselor faxed a certificate of completion to the attorney.

    On or about April 11, 2006, the woman met with the attorney and signed another set of bankruptcy papers. For the remainder of 2006, the woman did not hear further from the attorney. The woman made a written status inquiry in February 2007 and telephone inquiries in March 2007, but the attorney did not respond. In mid-February 2008, more than two years after hiring the attorney, and with no bankruptcy petition yet filed on her behalf, the woman hired another attorney to represent her in the bankruptcy matter. On Sept. 25, 2008, successor counsel filed a small-claims action on behalf of the woman against the attorney. That matter settled in January 2009 with the attorney paying a sum to the woman.

    By failing to commence a bankruptcy proceeding on behalf of the woman, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.3, which requires a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.

    The attorney also did not act to keep the woman adequately informed of the status of her bankruptcy nor was he reasonably responsive to her status inquiries, and therefore the attorney violated former SCR 20:1.4(a) (applicable to conduct occurring before July 1, 2007) and current SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4).

    By failing to return to the woman the unused portion of the bankruptcy filing fee and any portion of the fee advanced to him by the woman until the settlement of the small-claims action, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.16(d), which states in relevant part, "Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests, such as surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and refunding any advance payment of fee or expense that has not been earned or incurred...."

    By failing to deposit into his client trust account that portion of the funds received from the woman necessary to cover the bankruptcy filing fee, the attorney violated former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (effective before July 1, 2007), which stated in relevant part, "Funds advanced by a client or 3rd party for payment of costs shall be held in trust until the costs are incurred."

    In the second matter, in February 2006, a woman hired the attorney for representation in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. On March 11, 2006, the woman provided the attorney with a check for $1,074 for the representation, with the intent that a portion of the funds be used to cover the woman's anticipated filing fee in the matter. The attorney deposited the entire payment from the woman into his law office business account. No bankruptcy petition was ever filed in this matter, and there was no evidence indicating that either the attorney or the woman acted to terminate the representation.

    By failing to deposit into his client trust account that portion of the $1,074 received from the woman necessary to cover the payment of the bankruptcy filing fee, the attorney violated former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (effective before July 1, 2007).

    The attorney had no prior discipline. The private reprimand was conditioned on the attorney taking steps to ascertain whether the client in the second matter sought his continued representation, and his refunding of the advanced fee payment if the client wished to terminate the representation.

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    Disbursing Funds from Trust Account Before Making Related Deposits; Failure to Hold Funds in Trust; Failure to Keep Funds Held in Trust Separate from Lawyer's Own Property; Holding Lawyer's Funds in Trust Account; Failure to Maintain Trust Account Records

    Violations of SCR 20:1.15(b)(1) and (3), (e)(5)a., and (f)(1)a.

    An attorney who represented a man in a divorce was holding in trust more than $176,000 in connection with the divorce. At the same time, the attorney was representing another man in a personal injury matter and reached a $50,000 settlement in that matter. Before depositing the personal injury settlement funds, the attorney made six disbursements in that matter from the trust account, totaling $34,707.63, including a $19,069.24 check to the client and a $10,334.80 check to the law firm. Five days later, the $50,000 settlement check was mistakenly deposited into the attorney's business account rather than the trust account. Because there were no funds in the trust account relating to the personal injury matter, funds relating to the divorce were used to cover those checks.

    Shortly thereafter, the attorney disbursed the $176,000 in divorce proceeds to the client, the client's wife, and the law firm. An $89,339.54 check issued to the client's wife was returned because of insufficient funds (NSF). Following the overdraft, the $50,000 personal injury settlement funds were transferred to the trust account, and the NSF check cleared. The attorney had disbursed funds in at least four other client matters when there were no funds in trust for the clients. In one of those matters, a collection case, the attorney was out of trust by $914.94 for nearly six months before depositing $694.84 in personal funds to partially cover that shortfall. However, the remaining shortfall of $220.10 was not resolved for another 14 months. In that matter, an employee of the law firm had mistakenly deposited to the business account funds that should have been deposited to the trust account.

    In addition, the attorney held $4,001.92 in personal funds in one of the firm's two trust accounts for seven months and maintained only one transaction register, which had no running balance, for those two accounts.

    By disbursing $34,707.63 in a personal injury matter before depositing the settlement proceeds, and by disbursing funds in four other matters before making the related deposits, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(5)a., which provides, "A lawyer shall not disburse funds from any trust account unless the deposit from which those funds will be disbursed has cleared, and the funds are available for disbursement." By failing to hold in trust $34,707.63 relating to a divorce and $914.94 relating to a collection matter, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), which provides, "A lawyer shall hold in trust ... that property of clients and 3rd parties that is in the lawyer's possession in connection with a representation...."

    By depositing a $50,000 personal injury settlement into a business account rather than a trust account, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), which provides, "A lawyer shall hold in trust, separate from the lawyer's own property, that property of clients and 3rd parties that is in the lawyer's possession in connection with a representation...." By holding $4,000 in personal funds in a trust account, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), which provides, "No funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm, except funds reasonably sufficient to pay monthly account service charges, may be deposited or retained in a trust account."

    Finally, by failing to maintain a transaction register with a running balance for two trust accounts, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)a., which provides, "Complete records of a trust account that is a demand account shall include a transaction register ... subject to all of the following: a. The transaction register shall contain a chronological record of all account transactions, and shall include all of the following: 1. the date, source, and amount of all deposits; 2. the date, check or transaction number, payee and amount of all disbursements, whether by check, wire transfer, or other means; 3. the date and amount of every other deposit or deduction of whatever nature; 4. the identity of the client for whom funds were deposited or disbursed; and 5. the balance in the account after each transaction...."

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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    Engaging in Prohibited Sexual Relationship With a Client

    Violation of SCR 20:1.8(j)

    In September 2010, an attorney began representing a woman in a postdivorce matter involving issues of child placement. In mid-March 2011, while the woman was still his client, the attorney began a personal and dating relationship with the woman, which included consensual sexual relations. The attorney did not have a sexual relationship with the client before he began representing her. Later in March 2011, the attorney informed opposing counsel and the guardian ad litem about his personal relationship with the client and of his intention to withdraw from the representation. In April 2011, the attorney and the client signed a stipulation calling for the attorney's withdrawal from the representation, and that same month the court signed an order allowing the attorney's withdrawal.

    By commencing with a client a sexual relationship that continued while the attorney still represented the client in the matter for which he had been hired, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.8(j), which states, "A lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a current client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced."

    The attorney was privately reprimanded in 1991 for having a conflict of interest in a representation.

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    Lack of Diligence; Failure to Keep Client Informed of Case Status

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3 and 20:1.4(a)

    An attorney represented a client in a federal employment discrimination suit. The defendant moved to dismiss on grounds of improper service. The court entered an order declaring that proper service had not been accomplished, but the court did not dismiss the case and instead granted the attorney's client additional time in which to properly serve the defendant. The attorney claimed not to have received that order and a subsequent order dismissing the case after nothing was done to accomplish proper service. Over an eight-month period, the attorney also did not act to ascertain the status of any motions before the court. The attorney did not dispute receiving a copy of the judgment and she informed her client of the dismissal, but she then took four months to move for relief from the judgment. The court denied that motion, having determined that the attorney's delay did not constitute excusable neglect.

    SCR 20:1.3 requires an attorney to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. The attorney violated SCR 20:1.3 by failing to periodically review the status of pending motions over an eight-month period, failing to discover the order allowing additional time to effect service of process, and failing to take prompt or meaningful action on behalf of her client once notified of the dismissal of the client's case.

    SCR 20:1.4(a) requires an attorney to keep a client reasonably informed as to case status. The attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a) by failing to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of his federal district court case, including whether the court had entered any orders relevant to the case.

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

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