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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 01, 2003

    Lawyer Discipline

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 6, June 2003

    Lawyer Discipline

    The Office of Lawyer Regulation (formerly known as the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility), 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 persons practicing law in Wisconsin. The Office of Lawyer Regulation has offices located at Suite 315, 110 E. Main St., Madison, WI 53703, and Suite 300, 342 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202. Toll-free telephone: (877) 315-6941.

    Public reprimand of Donald A. Hahnfeld

    The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Donald A. Hahnfeld, 49, West Allis, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on April 22, 2003, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).

    Hahnfeld represented the wife in a divorce matter. An attorney initially represented the husband while the attorney was an associate at another firm. While the divorce matter was pending, the associate left the firm to work at a firm in another city, and a partner at the first firm replaced the associate as the husband's attorney.

    Twelve days before the scheduled trial date, the partner inadvertently discovered that the associate who had formerly represented the husband was working out of Hahnfeld's office. The next day, the partner filed a motion and supporting affidavit to have Hahnfeld removed as the wife's attorney of record based upon a violation of SCR 20:1.10(b). Hahnfeld did not file an affidavit or any other response in opposition to this motion.

    At a hearing on this motion, the court found that it was clear that the associate was associated with Hahnfeld's office based upon the following, all of which occurred in the month before the scheduled trial date: the associate sent out letters to her clients on Hahnfeld's letterhead; the associate was listed as "of counsel" on Hahnfeld's letterhead; the associate was listed as an employee in Hahnfeld's office in State Bar of Wisconsin records; and the associate accepted service of the notice of the partner's motion for Hahnfeld's removal at Hahnfeld's office.

    Despite Hahnfeld's position that he made efforts to minimize his relationship with the associate, the court found that Hahnfeld had a conflict of interest; that the husband did not consent to waive the conflict; and that there was a clear violation of SCR 20:1.10(b). As a result, the court removed Hahnfeld as the attorney of record for the wife. Hahnfeld did not challenge the court's decision to remove him from the case by filing either a motion for reconsideration or an appeal of this decision.

    Two months later, Hahnfeld filed a defamation lawsuit against the partner alleging that statements the partner made in her affidavit in support of the motion for removal of Hahnfeld from the divorce action were defamatory and that the partner published these defamatory statements. Pursuant to Hahnfeld's request, the court sealed the court record in the defamation action. Hahnfeld did not serve the partner with the summons and complaint until more than seven weeks after filing the lawsuit. At the same time, Hahnfeld served the partner with extensive discovery requests. As a result of Hahnfeld's delay in serving the partner with the summons and complaint, her answer to the complaint as well as her responses to the discovery requests were due during the winter holiday season. In addition, the trial in the divorce action that had to be rescheduled due to Hahnfeld's removal was scheduled to begin during this period. These discovery requests for documents and information were extensive, overbroad, and mostly irrelevant to the defamation action.

    In a letter to Hahnfeld, the partner, through counsel, asserted that she was absolutely privileged to publish defamatory statements concerning Hahnfeld in communications preliminary to, during the course of, and as part of a judicial proceeding in which she participates as counsel if they have some relation to the proceeding, and cited case law supporting this assertion. The partner's counsel requested that Hahnfeld sign a stipulation dismissing the defamation action. Promptly thereafter, Hahnfeld signed the stipulation dismissing the defamation action with prejudice.

    By continuing to represent the wife in the divorce action after the associate had associated with his firm, Hahnfeld knowingly represented the wife in the same matter in which the associate had previously represented the husband, whose interests were materially adverse to the wife and about whom the associate had acquired information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(b) that was material to the matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.10(b). By filing a lawsuit against the partner alleging that the partner made defamatory statements in her affidavit in support of her motion to remove Hahnfeld from the divorce action when she had an absolute privilege to do so, Hahnfeld filed a suit when he knew or when it was obvious that such an action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure the partner, in violation of SCR 20:3.1(a)(3).

    In 1993, Hahnfeld received a public reprimand for violations of SCR 20:1.3, 20:1.4(a), and 20:1.16(d).

    Disciplinary proceedings against Bruce L. Nash

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Bruce L. Nash, Chicago, for one year, effective April 22, 2003, as discipline reciprocal to that imposed upon Nash by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001.

    The one-year suspension of Nash's Illinois law license resulted from his misconduct in two separate client matters, consisting generally of conversion; failing to hold property of clients or third persons separate from the lawyer's own property; failing to promptly pay or deliver to his client or a third person funds that his client or the third person is entitled to receive; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; and engaging in conduct that tends to defeat the administration of justice or bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute.

    The OLR's filing of a disciplinary complaint seeking reciprocal discipline resulted in the Wisconsin Supreme Court's order that Nash show cause why identical discipline should not be imposed. Nash's failure to respond resulted in Wisconsin's suspension order.

    In addition to the disciplinary suspension, Nash's Wisconsin law license remains suspended for his failure to pay dues and for noncompliance with CLE requirements.

    Disciplinary proceeding against Judith A. Pinchar

    On April 10, 2003, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revoked the law license of Judith A. Pinchar, 48, Milwaukee, effective the date of the order. Pinchar had failed to answer the disciplinary complaint and also failed to respond to the referee's calls to her office and home, which ultimately led to a default judgment.

    Pinchar was privately reprimanded in 1999 for lack of diligence in pursuing a client's claim, failing to respond to the client's attempts to contact her, failing to notify the client that the statute of limitation had passed, and failing to cooperate with the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility (BAPR). In November 2000, the court suspended Pinchar's law license for 60 days based upon her failure to keep a client informed about the status of a matter, making misrepresentations to that client, practicing law in a jurisdiction in which she was not licensed, and failing to cooperate with three investigations. (See February 2001 Wisconsin Lawyer). Her license was reinstated on April 26, 2001; however, it was temporarily suspended on Aug. 27, 2001, and remained so since then, based upon her willful failure to cooperate with OLR.

    The revocation stems from Pinchar's conversion of $3,698 and other trust account violations, which were discovered as a result of overdrafts on her trust account (SCR 20:1.15(a) and SCR 20:8.4(c)). In August 2000, a man retained Pinchar to represent him regarding a post-divorce matter. He gave her a $6,326.22 check for arrearages owed to his ex-wife, which Pinchar deposited in her trust account. Pinchar then represented to the ex-wife that the $6,326.22 that she was holding in her trust account was to pay all arrearages owed by Pinchar's client. The ex-wife would not accept the amount as payment in full, because her counsel calculated the arrearage to be nearly $12,000.

    In November 2000, Pinchar disbursed $1,708.53 to herself from that client's funds, identifying it as attorney fees. However, two weeks later, she replaced the funds by reducing the amount that she withdrew for fees in an unrelated matter. Between November 2000 and July 2001, Pinchar converted an additional $3,698 from that client's funds.

    In August 2001, Pinchar deposited a $3,700 check payable to herself from a relative to cover the $3,698 that she had converted, thereby commingling a personal loan with client funds (SCR 20:1.15(a)). That same day, she disbursed $5,539.12 to the client's ex-wife. Following that disbursement and a prior $787.50 disbursement to the ex-wife's lawyer, that client's funds had been completely disbursed.

    In October 2001, Pinchar deposited $450 in cash into her trust account and disbursed it to pay her law office rent (SCR 20:1.15(a)). In November 2001, three months after the temporary suspension took effect, Pinchar disbursed $1,618.95 from her trust account to the attorney for her client's ex-wife, despite the fact that there were no funds in the account in that matter. The check to the ex-wife's attorney resulted in an overdraft. That same month, Pinchar disbursed a $300 check from her trust account to pay costs that had been assessed in connection with a motion to compel discovery, despite the fact that there were no funds in the account relating to that client (SCR 20:8.4(c)). This led to a second overdraft.

    Pinchar subsequently deposited a $50 check from the client with the arrearage matter, along with $158 from two other former clients for earned fees, thereby commingling personal funds in her trust account (SCR 20:1.15(a)). In December 2001, Pinchar deposited an $890 retainer fee into the trust account but failed to disclose to the client that her license was suspended (SCR 20:8.4(c)). Finally, Pinchar failed to cooperate with OLR's investigation regarding the two overdrafts (SCR 22.03(6)).

    Hearing to reinstate Joseph J. Klein

    On July 31, 2003, at 9:30 a.m., a public hearing will occur before referee Cheryl Weston at the offices of Cullen, Weston, Pines, & Bach LLP, 122 W. Washington Ave., Suite 900, Madison, on the petition of Joseph J. Klein, Madison, to reinstate his Wisconsin law license. Klein formerly practiced law in Madison. Any interested person may appear at the hearing and be heard in support of, or in opposition to, the petition for reinstatement.

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court revoked Klein's law license, effective March 16, 1987, for professional misconduct consisting of making unauthorized withdrawals of funds in a receivership account in a matter in which he was the court-appointed receiver; providing a receivership accounting inaccurately reflecting the transactions that occurred in that account and misrepresenting the status of the account; making misrepresentations in the accounting during the misconduct investigation; failing to promptly obtain court permission to pay out funds from a receivership account to the parties entitled to them; commingling funds from a receivership account with client funds on deposit in his attorney trust account and using those commingled funds for personal purposes; failing during the misconduct investigation to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to his alleged misconduct, and failing to answer questions and present relevant evidence; and failing to maintain and preserve adequate trust account records. A more detailed account of Klein's misconduct is recited in Disciplinary Proceedings Against Klein, 135 Wis. 2d 342, 400 N.W.2d 459 (1987).

    As to reinstatement, Klein is required to demonstrate by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that, among other things, he has not practiced law or engaged in certain law-work activity during the suspension; his conduct since the suspension has been exemplary and above reproach; he has a proper understanding of and attitude towards the standards that are imposed upon members of the bar and will act in conformity with the standards; he can safely be recommended to the legal profession, the courts, and the public as a person fit to be consulted by others, and to represent them and otherwise act in matters of trust and confidence; he has fully described all of his business activities; he has the moral character to practice law in Wisconsin; and he has fully complied with the terms of the order of suspension and court rules.

    Further information can be obtained from OLR investigator Nancy Warner, 110 E. Main St., Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703, (877) 315-6941 (toll free); or from OLR retained counsel Robert G. Krohn, 24 N. Henry St., P.O. Box 151, Edgerton, WI 53534, (608) 884-3391.

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