Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jeffrey Elverman
On March 25, 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revoked the law license of Jeffrey Elverman, commencing the date of the order. In addition, the court ordered that Elverman pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding and restitution as ordered in a criminal case. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Elverman, 2014 WI 15.
Elverman’s most serious misconduct related to his representation of an elderly widow, D.P., who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease throughout much of the time that Elverman represented her. Elverman prepared various estate planning documents for D.P., including powers of attorney for finances and for health. When D.P.’s agent under the powers of attorney resigned in 2001, Elverman became D.P.’s agent. From December 2001 through September 2004, D.P. paid Elverman $604,000, purportedly for personal services that he performed for her. Elverman never disclosed to his firm that he was providing services to D.P. nor did he report to the firm the income he received from D.P.
In March 2003, at Elverman’s request, D.P.’s treating physician certified that D.P. was incapacitated. Nonetheless, in August 2003, Elverman amended D.P.’s trust to name himself trustee. D.P. signed the amendment. The amendment gave Elverman complete control over D.P.’s estate.
In June 2008, the supreme court suspended Elverman’s law license for nine months based on misconduct relating to another trust he handled. In the affidavit he filed with the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) at that time, Elverman did not list D.P. as a client. Following his suspension, Elverman resigned as D.P.’s agent and trustee. He arranged for an accountant he knew to take over the duties. The accountant agreed to resign and reappoint Elverman once Elverman was reinstated from his suspension.
In July 2008, a social worker raised questions about the validity of D.P.’s power of attorney for health care. A guardianship proceeding for D.P. was initiated. The court denied Elverman’s attempt to withdraw his resignations as D.P.’s agent and trustee. An accounting performed by D.P.’s appointed guardian revealed Elverman’s theft of D.P.’s funds. In December 2011, a jury found Elverman guilty of felony theft.
In the disciplinary proceeding, Elverman stipulated to the eight counts of misconduct with respect to D.P. alleged in the OLR’s complaint, including engaging in dishonest conduct, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c); and breaching his fiduciary duty to his law firm and his duty of honesty in his professional dealings with it, in violation of the standard set forth in Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shea, 190 Wis. 2d 560, 527 N.W.2d 314 (1995), actionable via SCR 20:8.4(f).
Also addressed in the decision was Elverman’s conviction on July 15, 2011, for misdemeanor disorderly conduct arising out of a domestic-violence incident. Elverman violated SCR 20:8.4(b) by engaging in this conduct. Elverman also failed to report the conviction to the OLR and the clerk of the supreme court and thereby violated SCR 21.15(5).
The supreme court agreed with the referee that the revocation should not be retroactive to the date Elverman became eligible to reinstate from his earlier suspension.
Public Reprimand of Jeremy T. Ford
The OLR and Jeremy T. Ford, San Francisco, 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 April 24, 2014, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
In December 2011, Ford and his wife arrived at the Redwood City, Cal., Caltrain station to take a train to their home in San Francisco. As the doors of the train began to close, Ford intervened and held the doors open so his wife could board the train. After boarding, a Caltrain conductor told Ford he needed to leave the train because he had created an “unsafe environment” by holding the doors open for his wife. When Ford refused to leave the train, officers took steps to arrest and forcibly remove Ford from the train. Ford actively resisted removal from the train and responded to an officer’s commands by telling the officer, “Fuck you, get off me!” Ford also called the officer a “douchebag.”
After removal from the train, Ford continued to resist, ignored law enforcement officers’ commands, and yelled that law enforcement had no authority over him. At one point, according to police reports, Ford bit a deputy on the inside of his forearm. The deputy responded by punching Ford and breaking his nose. Police reports further state that Ford reached for a deputy’s taser and baton.
Ultimately, another deputy used pepper spray to subdue Ford, who continued to struggle, scream, and yell. With the assistance of additional law enforcement officers, Ford was restrained on a gurney, at which point Ford commanded his wife to call 911 to have someone other than “these dickhead cops” come help him. According to incident reports, Ford was intoxicated and had marijuana in his possession. The Caltrain train was delayed 27 minutes at the station as a result of the incident.
On Feb. 6, 2013, Ford pleaded no contest to one count of resisting arrest (misdemeanor), in violation of California Penal Code 148(a)(1), and all remaining charges were dismissed. The court sentenced Ford to 20 days in jail (sentence suspended with community service), two years’ probation, and applicable fines.
By engaging in conduct leading to his conviction for one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest in violation of California Penal Code 148(a), Ford violated SCR 20:8.4(b). By refusing to cooperate with law enforcement officers, actively resisting arrest, biting a law enforcement officer, and otherwise engaging in belligerent and obstreperous conduct, Ford engaged in offensive personality, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(g) and SCR 40.15 (the Attorney’s Oath). In addition, by failing to provide timely written notice to the OLR and the supreme court clerk of his conviction, Ford violated SCR 21.15(5).
Ford had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Peter James Nickitas
On March 14, 2014, the supreme court issued an order suspending the Wisconsin law license of Peter James Nickitas, Minneapolis, for 30 days, effective April 18, 2014, as discipline reciprocal to a May 7, 2013, Minnesota Supreme Court order suspending Nickitas’s Minnesota law license for 30 days. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Nickitas, 2014 WI 12.
The Minnesota suspension arose from Nickitas undertaking representation despite a conflict of interest, engaging in inappropriate conduct toward opposing counsel, and bringing a claim in bad faith and for an improper purpose. Nickitas’s conduct violated Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7(a)(2), 3.1, 4.4(a), and 8.4(d).
Nickitas’s Wisconsin law license had previously been suspended for 90 days in 2006, reciprocal to a Minnesota disciplinary action. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Nickitas, 2006 WI 20.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Charles J. Labanowsky III
On March 26, 2014, the supreme court revoked the law license of Charles J. Labanowsky III, formerly of Kenosha. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Labanowsky, 2014 WI 18. Labanowsky was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1975 and retired from the practice of law in April 2013.
Labanowsky received a public reprimand in 2009 for engaging in acts leading to separate convictions of misdemeanor operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more (second offense), misdemeanor bail jumping, misdemeanor operating while intoxicated (OWI) (third offense), and misdemeanor OWI (fourth offense), all in violation of SCR 20:8.4(b). He received a public reprimand in 2011 for engaging in acts leading to a criminal conviction of misdemeanor theft in violation of SCR 20:8.4(b).
Labanowsky filed a petition for consensual license revocation indicating he could not defend against misconduct, alleged by the OLR, of violations of SCR 20:8.4(b) relating to five new alcohol-related arrests between April 2012 and May 2013. On June 20, 2013, Labanowsky entered a plea agreement with respect to the five cases. Labanowsky was found guilty and convicted of one count of OWI (fifth offense) and three counts of felony bail jumping. Additional charges were dismissed but read in. Labanowsky was sentenced to 36 months in prison followed by 36 months of extended supervision in the OWI matter; the court imposed and stayed additional sentences in the related cases.
Labanowsky’s petition for consensual license revocation further indicated that he could not defend against misconduct allegations the OLR was investigating relating to trust-account anomalies. In 2009, the OLR discovered Labanowsky had disbursed to himself $10,000 more than he was entitled to receive in a real estate transaction. The OLR further learned that Labanowsky had a shortfall of more than $32,000 in his trust account relating to two estate matters.
In addition, Labanowsky often maintained earned fees in the trust account for long periods of time and occasionally deposited personal funds back to the trust account to cover shortfalls caused by the conversion of client funds. These and other trust account irregularities potentially violated SCR 20:8.4(c) and SCR 20:1.15(b), (d), and (f).
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Randy J. Wynn
On March 26, 2014, the supreme court revoked the law license of Randy J. Wynn, West Allis, and ordered Wynn to pay restitution to clients harmed by his actions. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Wynn, 2014 WI 17. Wynn was admitted to the practice of law in Wisconsin in 1979. His license had been temporarily suspended since August 2013 pending receipt of additional information needed to render a restitution order.
In November 2012, Wynn self-reported to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and to the OLR that he had stolen money from his IOLTA client trust account to fund a severe gambling addiction and to pay personal bills. Wynn admitted that he had taken a significant amount of money from his trust account over the past several years, but he was not certain of the exact amount.
In June 2013, Wynn filed a petition for consensual license revocation indicating he could not defend against misconduct the OLR was investigating. Included with his petition was an accounting indicating that he had taken $784,734.87 attributable to specific clients; the OLR and the District Attorney’s Office agreed this was the most accurate accounting to date of Wynn’s misappropriations. Criminal charges were filed against Wynn in January 2014.
In its order revoking Wynn’s license, the supreme court further ordered that Wynn pay restitution totaling $784,734.87 to numerous clients as outlined in an exhibit filed by the OLR.