Wisconsin Lawyer: Restoring Public Confidence: Clients Tell Their Stories:

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    Restoring Public Confidence: Clients Tell Their Stories

    Dianne Molvig

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 79, No. 10, October 2006

    Restoring Public Confidence: Clients Tell Their Stories

    The Wisconsin Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection has helped many clients over the years. Here three of them speak out about their experiences.

    Betrayed Trust

    client protection fund 

    Fund for Client Protection Committee members discuss reimbursements to victims of lawyer theft. From left: Mr. William Neill, Ripon; Deb Smith, Madison; vice chair Stephen Holden, Rhinelander; fund administrator Kris Wenzel; committee chair David Reddy, Elkhorn; Wayne Maffei, Baraboo; and Mr. Steven Behar, Delavan. Missing from photo: Joseph Wright, Madison.

    Gilbert Thomsen thought he could trust Racine lawyer Gerald Proost. The two men's families had known each other "from way back," says Thomsen, who has called Racine his home for all of his 77 years.

    "[Proost's] father was a family friend - a real estate man who was as honest as the day is long," Thomsen adds. The same can't be said for his son.

    Thomsen had hired Proost to prepare a will, which Proost did. "Then one day he told me that if I had any money lying around," Thomsen reports, "he could get me good interest on it" at a rate of 7 percent.

    Thomsen gave Proost $16,000. For a time, Thomsen received earnings checks, but then the checks stopped coming.

    "When I didn't get a check," Thomsen recalls, "I'd say, `Jerry, where is it?' He'd say, `He's supposed to bring some money.' We never did find out who `he' was. It kept going on like that. [Proost] was stringing me along."

    Finally, Thomsen reported Proost to the county sheriff's department, which had received other allegations against Proost. What had he done with Thomsen's money? "That's just it," Thomsen replies. "We still don't know."

    The sheriff's department steered Thomsen to the Client Protection Fund, which ultimately paid restitution to Thomsen for more than half of what he'd lost.

    "I was thrilled to get it," Thomsen says. "It's wonderful that the Bar has a fund to settle with people who got [swindled]. It's just wonderful."

    Empty Promises

    At age 10, Keith and Jamie Kozak's son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For years, he was on medications that didn't seem to help. Their son had serious problems in school, and the Kozaks, of Phillips, felt that school personnel often mistreated him.

    The school referred the Kozaks to a parent advocate, who suggested they consider legal remedies. She steered them to Joan Marcott, a paralegal who worked with Janesville attorney John Sanborn.

    The Kozaks paid $5,000 down to Sanborn to pursue a lawsuit against their school district. Some time later, they gave Sanborn another $5,000.

    Marcott kept telling the Kozaks not to worry about the expense. "She was promising us the world - that we'd have enough money to build a brand new house," Keith Kozak says. "We didn't want a new house. All we wanted was to recoup our losses and get something for damages" from the school district.

    A few years later, when their son was 14, he was properly diagnosed with Asperger's disorder, a mild variant of autism. And still the Kozaks waited for something to happen with their lawsuit.

    But, in fact, Sanborn never filed any lawsuit, and the Kozaks learned that the statute of limitation had expired. Park Falls attorney Dan Snyder helped the Kozaks by writing to Sanborn to demand return of their money. The Kozaks never got a dime, and Snyder suggested they contact the Client Protection Fund.

    The fund compensated the Kozaks for their first $5,000. Their second $5,000 payment, however, had been an account-to-account transfer, and the receiving account was not in Sanborn's name. Lacking proper documentation, the fund couldn't pay the other $5,000.

    The Kozaks were relieved to get back what they did. "We should have seen more red flags," says Jamie Kozak of their experience with Sanborn. "But I think our attention was on getting our son what he needed."

    More Than the Money

    Rebecca Horien's supervisor was trouble enough. She'd quit working with him, due to problems she was having with him, although she continued to work for the same company. Still, her former supervisor retaliated by making false accusations against her.

    Horien, who lives in Fond du Lac, turned to Oshkosh attorney Tom Fadner for legal help in stopping her ex-supervisor's harassment and clearing her name. But, as it turned out, Fadner only added to Horien's troubles.

    When she first hired Fadner, Horien was favorably impressed. His office looked professional, and he and his staff seemed helpful. She paid Fadner a $2,000 advance, and he provided some advice initially on preparing the paperwork for her grievance.

    Over time, Horien noticed that the office staff turned over frequently, or was absent altogether when she stopped by to drop off paperwork. She caught a glimpse behind what previously had been closed doors to other rooms in the office suite. Piles of paperwork lay all over the floor. "It was a mess," she says.

    Horien also realized she was doing all the work on her case, and that the paperwork she brought to Fadner probably was landing somewhere in those piles on the floor.

    But Fadner had Horien's $2,000, and she couldn't afford to hire another attorney. Eventually, Fadner missed a deadline on filing for a hearing. After that, Horien asked for $1,500 back out of her original $2,000. Fadner responded by sending a bill for $2,600 more.

    "I was so angry by that point," she says, "having gone through all that with my supervisor and then having to put up with my lawyer. I'd spent all those hours writing hundreds of page, and he never read them."

    She called the State Bar to file a complaint. "I wanted to report him so he couldn't do this to anybody else," she says. In that phone call, she learned about the Client Protection Fund. She applied for and received restitution of $1,500.

    "The money was wonderful," Horien says. "But more than that was the caring - that lawyers put up their own money to help people who were taken advantage of. I didn't expect that. The Bar was a godsend."