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    Lawyer Discipline

    These summaries are provided by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The OLR assists the court in supervising the practice of law and protecting 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 is at www.wicourts.gov/olr.

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    Petition to Reinstate Jevon J. Jaconi

    A public hearing will be held at 9 a.m., Tuesday, April 8, 2014, before referee Kevin L. Ferguson at the Brown County Courthouse, Room 370, 100 S. Jefferson Street, Green Bay, on the petition of Jevon J. Jaconi, Green Bay, to reinstate his Wisconsin law license. Any interested person may appear at the hearing and be heard in support of, or in opposition to, the petition for reinstatement and should contact assistant litigation counsel Sheryl St. Ores to arrange to testify.

    On Nov. 7, 2003, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended Jaconi’s license for one year, effective immediately. The suspension was based on 20 counts of misconduct, primarily related to failure to appear at hearings, abide by clients’ directions, consult with clients, commence actions, have charges dismissed, prepare for trials, advance clients’ interests, file and serve pleadings, communicate with clients, provide clients with court dates, update clients on case status and case options, refund unearned fees (including issuing nonsufficient-funds refund checks to clients), and return client files.

    To be reinstated, Jaconi 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 representations in his reinstatement petition are substantiated, and 4) he has complied fully with the terms of the suspension order and with SCR 22.26.

    Relevant information may be provided to or obtained from Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) investigator Lorry Eldien or OLR assistant litigation counsel Sheryl St. Ores, 110 E. Main St., Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703. The OLR’s toll-free number is (877) 315-6941. St. Ores’ direct number is (608) 261-0695.

    Disciplinary Proceeding Against Michael W. Steinhafel

    On Nov. 26, 2013, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Michael W. Steinhafel, Greendale, for four months. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Steinhafel, 2013 WI 93. The court also ordered Steinhafel to pay the cost of the proceeding.

    In a divorce matter, Steinhafel assisted the client in the sale of two income properties that were both potential marital assets. Steinhafel and the opposing counsel had agreed that the proceeds from the sale of both properties would remain in Steinhafel’s trust account pending a determination of the parties’ respective interests. After the first property was sold, Steinhafel directly distributed the entire amount to his client. Steinhafel initially placed the proceeds of the sale of the second property into his firm’s trust account but soon after distributed the entire amount of that sale to his client.

    At the divorce hearing, the opposing counsel told the court that the proceeds from the sale were being held in Steinhafel’s trust account. Steinhafel was present at the hearing but did not inform the court that the funds had already been distributed to his client.

    By failing to notify adverse counsel of the receipt of the sale proceeds, Steinhafel violated SCR 20:1.15(d)(1). By failing to hold the sale proceeds in trust, Steinhafel violated SCR 20:1.15(d)(3). By disbursing the entire sale proceeds to his client in direct contradiction of an agreement made with adverse counsel, Steinhafel violated SCR 20:8.4(c). By continuing to misrepresent to adverse counsel in court that he was holding the sale proceeds in trust, Steinhafel violated SCR 20:8.4(c).

    In another matter, a man paid Steinhafel $1,500 to represent him in a small-claims action. Steinhafel later moved to another firm and did not notify the client of the move. When the client requested that Steinhafel return his file and refund his unearned fee, Steinhafel failed to respond to the client’s request.

    By failing to provide notice of his office move, inform the client of the apparent termination of the representation, and provide the client with a refund of unearned fees, Steinhafel violated SCR 20:1.16(d).

    Finally, Steinhafel was the subject of a traffic stop that led to criminal charges, which he ultimately resolved by pleading guilty to a felony charge of third-offense operating while intoxicated with a minor child in the car. By his criminal act, Steinhafel violated SCR 20:8.4(b). Steinhafel failed to provide timely written notice of his conviction to the OLR and the clerk of the supreme court and thus also violated SCR 21.15(5).

    In 2008, Steinhafel received a public reprimand.

    Public Reprimand of Colleen J. Locke

    The OLR and Colleen J. Locke, Jefferson, 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 in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on Nov. 15, 2013.

    Locke, an experienced family law attorney, represented a man in a divorce. During the representation, the client was arrested and was then incarcerated in federal prison for the remainder of the divorce proceeding.

    Having been informed by the client of his objectives regarding property division and child custody, placement, and support, by failing to abide by those objectives or consult further with the client regarding the viability of the objectives, Locke violated SCR 20:1.2(a) and SCR 20:1.4(a)(2).

    By failing to arrange for the client to appear by telephone for the final divorce hearing and by failing to either present the client’s positions to the court or withdraw from the case so that the client could proceed with the case pro se or hire successor counsel, Locke violated SCR 20:1.3.

    By failing to provide the client with notice of the final divorce hearing and to timely advise the client of the outcome of the hearing, thereby jeopardizing the client’s appeal rights, Locke violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).

    By offering to provide the client with a partial refund of $500 on the condition that he sign an agreement releasing Locke of any claims against her arising from her representation of the client in the divorce case, which offer the client refused, Locke violated SCR 20:8.4(a), by attempting to violate SCR 20:1.8(h).

    Locke received public reprimands in 2009 and 2013.

    Public Reprimand of Bruno Rizzo

    The OLR and Bruno Rizzo, Kenosha, 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 in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on Nov. 18, 2013.

    Rizzo’s misconduct occurred in a probate matter and a real estate transaction. A man (the decedent) left his estate to his three adult daughters. The decedent’s ex-wife, the mother of the three daughters, was not named a beneficiary in the decedent’s will. Rizzo represented two of the daughters, both of whom were estate beneficiaries, and the ex-wife, a nonbeneficiary, regarding administration of the estate.

    An issue arose as to whether the ex-wife had removed valuable items from the decedent’s home before his death and whether the items had been gifts to her. The three clients believed that the decedent had gifted the items to his ex-wife. Rizzo nonetheless was required to obtain written conflict waivers from each client following necessary consultation regarding the implications of the common representation, including that the ex-wife’s interest in keeping the items might conflict with the interests of the daughters in maximizing the value of the estate inventory. Rizzo failed to do so and thereby violated former SCR 20:1.7(b) (effective before July 1, 2007).

    Rizzo subsequently represented one of the daughters (who was also one of the clients in the estate matter) and the ex-wife in a real estate transaction concerning the estate. The transaction involved the daughter’s purchase of real estate from the estate, the creation of a limited liability company (LLC) with the ex-wife, and the formation of a joint venture with developers. The daughter used her bequest and obtained a loan to buy the property.

    Documents that Rizzo drafted to form the LLC called for the daughter to make a capital investment in the LLC, while the ex-wife contributed “sweat equity” for future work on the development. Rizzo failed to obtain conflict-of-interest waivers regarding his concurrent representation of each client in forming the LLC. By representing the daughter and the ex-wife in forming the LLC, and by proceeding in the transaction when the clients had differing interests, without obtaining written conflict-of-interest waivers after consultation, Rizzo again violated former SCR 20:1.7(b).

    By not protecting the daughter’s capital contribution, as a result of his failure to include terms in the transactional documents calling for the daughter’s capital contribution to be paid back before any profit distribution was made, Rizzo violated SCR 20:1.1, which requires competent representation. In violation of SCR 20:1.4(b), Rizzo also failed to communicate with the daughter before the real estate closing to advise her of the risks involved and to explain the terms of the transactional documents.

    Rizzo received private reprimands in 1992 and 2009. 

    Disciplinary Proceeding Against Sean D. Cooper

    On Dec. 10, 2013, the supreme court revoked the law license of Sean D. Cooper, Milwaukee, and ordered him to pay restitution to various clients and the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. In addition, the court ordered Cooper to pay the full cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper, 2013 WI 97.

    Cooper was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 2009. Cooper’s law license was temporarily suspended pursuant to SCR 22.03(4) on Oct. 17, 2012, and his license remained suspended until the revocation.

    The OLR filed an amended complaint alleging 78 counts of misconduct in 18 separate matters. During the disciplinary proceeding, Cooper was given until Feb. 28, 2013, to respond to the amended complaint and was directed to call the referee in advance of a telephone conference scheduled for March 4, 2013. Cooper failed to contact the referee and did not respond to the amended complaint. Thereafter, the OLR filed a motion for default judgment. Attached to the supporting affidavit was a letter from Cooper dated March 19, 2013, addressed to the referee and the OLR’s counsel. The letter stated, “I have decided to voluntary [sic] surrender my license to practice law in the State of Wisconsin due to personal reasons.” The referee granted the OLR’s motion for default judgment.

    In one of the matters, the Hon. Pamela Pepper, Chief Bankruptcy Judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, reported to the OLR that pursuant to unanimous agreement of the Eastern District of Wisconsin bankruptcy judges, Cooper had been barred from filing any new bankruptcy petitions for six months based on his repeated mishandling of multiple bankruptcy matters, including failing to respond to communications from the bankruptcy court and trustee, failing to communicate with clients regarding court appearances, filing schedules in bankruptcy proceedings without prior client review, and filing bankruptcy petitions during the time he was barred from doing so.

    Cooper’s misconduct included violations of SCR 20:1.1; SCR 20:1.3; SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4); SCR 20:1.5(a), (b)(1), (2), and (3), and (c); SCR 20:1.15(b)(4); SCR 20:1.16(d); SCR 20:3.3(a)(1); SCR 20:3.4(c); SCR 20:8.4(c); and SCR 22:03(2) and (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).

    In the referee’s report and recommendation to the court, the referee said he “cannot recall a prior disciplinary proceeding in which the respondent attorney demonstrated such a complete disregard of clients’ rights in multiple matters and a total lack of respect for the legal profession as Cooper has in this proceeding.” The referee recommended that the court revoke Cooper’s Wisconsin law license.

    The supreme court held that Cooper engaged in repeated misconduct in his handling of numerous client matters, and the court agreed with the referee that no sanction short of revocation would be sufficient to protect the public, achieve deterrence, and impress upon Cooper the seriousness of his misconduct.

    Cooper had no prior discipline.