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    Lawyer Discipline: Private Reprimand Summaries

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court allows the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility (BAPR) to publish for educational purposes in an official State Bar publication a summary of facts and professional conduct rule violations in matters in which BAPR has imposed private reprimands. The summaries do not disclose information identifying the reprimanded atttorneys.

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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 77, No. 11, November 2004

    Private Reprimand Summaries

    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.

    Lack of Diligence; Lack of Communication in Criminal Matter

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

    The State Public Defender's office appointed an attorney to represent a client on appeal of his criminal conviction. The attorney first contacted the client by mail two months after being appointed and advised the client that he would contact him again after reviewing the transcripts and file.

    A day after sending the initial letter, the attorney received the final transcript. Pursuant to state statute, the attorney had 60 days from that date to file a notice of appeal or motion for postconviction relief and 180 days to file a no-merit report.

    The attorney did not communicate with the client again for more than three months, at which time the attorney told the client in a phone conversation that he did not believe the appeal had merit but that he would review the file again and arrange another phone conference within the next 10 to 14 days. The attorney did not arrange the telephone conference. His next contact with the client was more than three months later when he advised the client in writing that he intended to file a no-merit report and would arrange another telephone conference with the client the next week. However, the attorney neither arranged another telephone conference with the client nor had any further communications with the client until he filed the no-merit report five months later. Although the no-merit report was filed five months late, the court of appeals accepted it.

    By filing the no-merit report five months late, the attorney failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. By failing adequately to communicate with the client between his appointment and the filing of the no-merit report, the attorney failed to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a).

    Conflict of Interest; Imputed Disqualification

    Violations of SCR 20:1.7(a); 20:1.10 (a)

    An attorney licensed to practice law in both Wisconsin and another jurisdiction consented to a private reprimand pursuant to SCR 20:8.5 and 22.22 as reciprocal discipline following findings by disciplinary officials in the other jurisdiction that: 1) the attorney violated its rule, comparable to SCR 20:1.7(a), against representing a client in a matter adverse to the position of another client; and 2) the attorney's conflict was imputed to other members of the attorney's law firm pursuant to a rule comparable to SCR 20:1.10(a).

    The attorney had previously represented the client in an action against Company A, which was resolved. Subsequently, the attorney taught classes to some managers at Company A and later became affiliated with a consulting firm to provide consulting services to Company A.

    Some years later, the client again retained the attorney and the attorney's firm to represent the client against another employer, Company B. Company B appealed an adverse ruling in the matter, which remained pending for the next two-and-one-half years.

    During the time that the Company B matter was pending, the client, again employed by Company A, became involved in a dispute with an immediate supervisor. The attorney learned of the dispute through the consulting firm, and met with the client and a second-level supervisor. Thereafter, the attorney was involved with the consulting firm's investigation, discussing the matter with the firm's lawyer, reviewing and editing the investigative materials, and reviewing the proposed disposition, which the attorney discussed with Company A's management.

    Pursuant to the consulting firm's recommendation, in which the attorney concurred, Company A decided to reprimand the client and the client's immediate supervisor, conditioning their future employment on their apologizing and agreeing to receive behavioral counseling. The client refused and was discharged from Company A.

    Thereafter, through independent counsel, the client sought an unredacted copy of the consulting firm's investigatory reports. The attorney's law firm researched whether the consulting firm was required to release the reports and advised the consulting firm and Company A that the consulting firm was not covered by the governing statute and, therefore, had no obligation to give the reports to the client. The client later filed a civil action against Company A and the consulting firm seeking a court order directing one or both of them to turn over the documents. The consulting firm retained other counsel to represent it in the lawsuit.

    By researching the relevant statute and advising the consulting firm and Company A regarding their obligation to produce the unredacted documents sought by the client, without the client's knowledge that the attorney's firm was working on the client's document requests and while the client's case against Company B was still pending, the attorney had a conflict of interest in representing one client with a position adverse to another client, pursuant to the other jurisdiction's rule comparable to SCR 20:1.7(a). To the extent that the research was performed and advice came from others within the attorney's firm, there was an imputed disqualification, pursuant to the other jurisdiction's rule comparable to SCR 20:1.10(a).

    Competence; Failure to Put Contingent Fee Agreement in Writing

    Violations of SCR 20:1.1; 20:1.5(c)

    A client was injured on a cruise ship and retained an attorney to represent her on a claim against the cruise line. The attorney stated that his unwritten fee agreement with the client was that he would have charged a reduced hourly fee if he had been able to obtain a settlement with the cruise line and no fee if the claim had to be referred to a Florida-licensed attorney to file a lawsuit against the cruise line. As stated, the fee agreement was contingent on the outcome the attorney would obtain for the client. By failing to put a contingent fee agreement in writing, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.5(c).

    A couple of weeks after the client was injured, she sent the attorney a copy of her passenger ticket. The passenger ticket had a forum selection clause that stated that all lawsuits arising in connection with the ticket shall be litigated in Dade County, Fla. The ticket also had a contractual limitation that stated that all lawsuits to recover on any claim shall be commenced within one year after the date of injury. The attorney failed to read the contractual limitation and handled the client's claim under the assumption that the applicable statute of limitation was four years. The attorney did not settle the client's claim before the contractual limitation expired, nor did he refer it to a Florida-licensed attorney before the expiration.

    By failing to read the passenger ticket's contractual limitation and by failing to settle the client's claim or refer it to a Florida attorney within one year of the date of the client's injury, the attorney failed to provide competent representation, in violation of SCR 20:1.1.

    Failure to Communicate

    Violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)

    The attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(a) by failing to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. The attorney's retainer agreement reads, "I have been advised that I will receive periodic billing statements, and I agree to pay any balance due on such statements promptly unless installment payments are current." The attorney did not send the client any billing statement during the first 11 months of representation, even after requests by the client.

    Failure to Communicate

    Violation of SCR 20:1.4(b)

    In September 2002, a couple consulted an attorney regarding bankruptcy. At that time, the couple had secured debt of $50,000 in their home valued at $40,000. The attorney advised the couple regarding bankruptcy and agreed to attempt to restructure the couple's debt to allow them to reaffirm the debt and retain their home.

    In October 2002, the attorney received loan renewal documents from the creditor; the terms of the renewal called for monthly payments of $495.54. There was a delay in filing the bankruptcy petition, and the reaffirmation and renewal were also delayed. The attorney had counseled the clients to not make payments on the home debt but failed to tell them to set aside the money to be applied toward the debt at reaffirmation.

    By the time the bankruptcy petition was filed, the creditor had filed a foreclosure action. The monthly payment required for reaffirmation and renewal had increased to $781. Because the couple did not set aside funds monthly and could not afford the higher monthly payment, the reaffirmation could not occur. The creditor subsequently was able to obtain relief from the bankruptcy automatic stay and purchase the home at a sheriff's sale.

    After conducting a formal investigation pursuant to SCR 22.03 and 22.04, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) director found that the attorney violated SCR 20:1.4(b), which states that a "lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation," by failing to advise the couple to set aside funds to apply toward the debt reaffirmation.

    Neglect; Failure to Communicate with Client

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

    A lawyer filed a lawsuit in federal court for a client who was seeking reinstatement of his Social Security disability benefits. The court imposed deadlines for filing the plaintiff's brief and reply brief, but the lawyer did not file them. On the deadline for filing the plaintiff's brief, the lawyer requested and received a continuance. The lawyer subsequently requested a second continuance, but by then the commissioner had issued a report and recommendation to dismiss the case. The lawsuit subsequently was dismissed.

    The lawyer did not inform the client that the lawsuit was dismissed. A year later, the client learned of the dismissal after a friend wrote a letter of inquiry to the court. The court replied and told the client that the case was dismissed because his lawyer had failed to file any briefs to meet the plaintiff's burden to prove that the commissioner's decision was incorrect.

    The lawyer expressed extreme remorse to the OLR for her misconduct and indicated there were extenuating circumstances involving her health, her family's health, and military obligations.

    In failing to file briefs on the client's behalf, which resulted in the court's dismissing the case, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3. In failing to inform the client when the court dismissed the lawsuit, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.4(a).

    Safekeeping Property; Meritorious Claims and Contention; Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation; Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants

    Violations of SCR 20:1.15(d); 20:3.1(a)(2), (a)(3); 20:8.4(c); 20:5.3(b); 20:1.15(e), (g)

    Sometime in 1995, a man signed a lease to rent residential property owned by another party. The property had been built recently, and when the man moved in, several items were yet to be completed. During the tenancy, several lawsuits arose between the landlord and the tenant. All of the cases were consolidated into one civil court matter.

    While the matter was pending before the circuit court, the respondent attorney held in his trust account approximately two months' worth of rent payments owed by his client (the tenant), plus one-half of the tenant's security deposit, for a total of $2,874. During the pending litigation, the attorney indicated to both the court and opposing counsel that he would retain the funds in his client trust account until the court issued an order regarding how the money should be disbursed.

    In June 1998, the court issued a decision in favor of the landlord and also ordered fees to the landlord. The court further ordered that the tenant be personally responsible for $9,161 and that the attorney be ordered to pay $2,000 in attorney fees for bringing a "frivolous" action on behalf of his client against the landlord.

    The attorney never disbursed the funds from his client trust account to opposing counsel or the landlord. Instead, after consulting with his client's bankruptcy attorney, the attorney sent his client a check from the attorney's client trust account for $2,275 and disbursed to himself $599 in attorney fees owed by the client. By letter, the attorney advised opposing counsel that his client intended to file for bankruptcy, and at the direction of his client's bankruptcy attorney, the lawyer disbursed the funds directly to his client because if he were to disburse the funds directly to the landlord, he would be violating the preferences under the federal bankruptcy code. The client filed for bankruptcy. The attorney did pay the $2,000 in attorney fees to the landlord as ordered by the court.

    During the course of the investigation relating to disbursements from the client trust account, the attorney also acknowledged that he had not maintained complete records of his client trust account for several months during 1998 and early 1999, due to inadequate records kept by his firm's office personnel.

    In failing to retain funds on deposit in his client trust account when a third person was claiming the funds and then subsequently in disbursing $2,275 of the funds to his client and in disbursing $599 to himself for fees, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(d).The attorney also knowingly advanced a frivolous factual position, in violation of SCR 20:3.1(a)(2), and filed a suit, asserted a position, delayed a trial, or took other action on behalf of his client when the attorney knew or when it was obvious that such an action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another, in violation of SCR 20:3.1(a)(3). Further, in advising opposing counsel and the court that the disputed funds would continue to be held in his client trust account until the court issued an order regarding how the money should be disbursed, and in subsequently disbursing those funds to his client and himself without a court order in his favor, the attorney engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c). In failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a nonlawyer employee of his firm was maintaining complete trust account records, the attorney failed to properly supervise a nonlawyer employee, in violation of SCR 20:5.3(b).

    Finally, in failing to keep a cash receipts journal, a disbursements journal, and individual client ledgers, the attorney failed to keep complete trust account records, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(e), and filed annual State Bar certificates that falsely certified that he had maintained required trust account records, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(g).

    Failure to Hold Property in Trust; Failure to Communicate with Client; Neglect; Failure to Return Unearned Fee on Termination of Representation; Failure to Cooperate with OLR Investigation

    Violations of SCR 20:1.15(a); 20:1.3; 20:1.4(a); 20:1.16(d); 22.07(2) (1998)

    In December 1999, a client delivered a $500 retainer to a lawyer to bring a personal injury suit. The contingent fee agreement stated that the retainer would be applied toward legal fees and expenses and would not be deposited into a client trust account. The retainer fee was deposited into the law firm's business account.

    The lawyer never filed a lawsuit even though the lawyer sent a draft complaint to the client, and the client signed a signature page for the complaint that was notarized by the lawyer in late January 2000. In mid-April 2000, the client wrote to the lawyer, complaining about the lawyer's lack of communication and demanding that the lawyer send to her proof of all work done on the case within five days. The lawyer did not reply.

    The client filed a grievance in early July 2000. The lawyer failed to respond to two requests to submit a written response to the grievance. The lawyer subsequently responded to further requests for information.

    The lawyer told the OLR that the lawyer intended to refund the $500 retainer to the client. Instead, the lawyer sent the client a check for $400 and deducted $100 for time spent on the case. The client did not cash the check because it would have been returned for insufficient funds. The lawyer subsequently returned the full $500 retainer.

    In failing to deposit a $500 retainer fee into a client trust account, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.15(a). In failing to file a lawsuit after the client had paid a retainer fee and had signed a complaint that the lawyer had prepared and notarized, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3. In failing to respond to the client's letter in which the client complained about the lack of communication, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.4(a). By failing to refund the full retainer fee for almost three months, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.16(d). In failing to provide a timely written response to the grievance, the lawyer violated SCR 22.07(2)(1998).

    In accepting the private reprimand, the lawyer agreed to attend a law office management course and the OLR trust account management seminar and to earn additional continuing legal education (CLE) credits on legal ethics and professional responsibility, as referenced in SCR 31.02(2).

    Neglect; Failure to Communicate with Client

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3; 20:1.4 (b)

    An inmate committed suicide in a Wisconsin jail. The inmate's mother sought to pursue a potential claim against the county in which the jail was located. The first law firm that the woman hired failed to timely file a notice with the county or to take any other action. The first law firm was located outside of Wisconsin.

    The case was referred to a Wisconsin attorney, who accepted the referral in November 1998 and opened a file to evaluate the potential claim. This attorney was informed that the notice of claim had not been timely filed with the county. The attorney did not begin investigating the case until April 1999, when he sent two letters to the client, who responded. The attorney did no further investigation.

    Sometime thereafter, the attorney decided to close his file and to not pursue the matter, but he did not inform the client of this until after she wrote to him in December 2001, inquiring about the status of her claim. The statute of limitation had run in 2000.

    By failing to evaluate the matter for five months after he accepted the referral and by failing to inform the client that he would not pursue her claim until more than three years after the referral, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.3, which requires a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. By failing to inform the client of the statute of limitation applicable to her claim and by waiting to inform her that he was not going to pursue any claim on her behalf until after the statute of limitation had expired, the attorney failed to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(b).

    Failure to Safe-keep Property; Failure to Maintain Trust Account Records; False Certification on State Bar Dues Statement

    Violations of SCR 20:1.15(a), (e), (g)

    An attorney who practices in criminal law and traffic law maintained a client trust account primarily to hold unearned fees. Between March and May of 1999, there were nine overdrafts on that trust account. The overdrafts stemmed from the attorney's disbursing several $50 checks for attorney fees when there were insufficient funds in the account to cover those disbursements. The attorney did not deposit law firm funds into the trust account to remedy the shortfall created by the overdrafts and the related bank charges. Instead, funds that were apparently deposited to cover fees in another client's matter were used to cover the shortfall.

    The attorney did not keep a transaction register with a running balance. While most transactions were recorded on the check stubs, the attorney failed to note all of the deposits and did not calculate the balance after each transaction. With respect to disbursements, the attorney typically made a note on the check stub, indicating the name of the client and that the disbursement was for fees. However, some check stubs contained only the notation "fees" without a corresponding client's name.

    In addition, the attorney did not maintain subsidiary ledgers as required by SCR 20:1.15(e). Instead, the attorney kept handwritten billing statements that did not include a running balance of the amount held in trust for each client. Further, the attorney failed to reconcile the trust account on a monthly basis. Finally, the attorney certified in three State Bar annual dues statements that the trust account records required by SCR 20:1.15(e) were being maintained, although they actually were not being maintained.

    By disbursing funds for fees in two client matters when there were insufficient funds in the trust account belonging to those clients to cover the disbursements, and by using other clients' funds to remedy the shortfalls and pay the related bank charges, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(a).

    By failing to maintain a subsidiary ledger for each client, a monthly schedule of such subsidiary ledgers, a check (transaction) register with a running balance that recorded all deposits, a monthly account reconciliation, and records that would identify the source of all deposits and the purpose of all disbursements, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(e).

    By falsely certifying in State Bar dues statements that the attorney was maintaining the trust account records required by SCR 20:1.15(e), the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(g).

    The reprimand was conditioned on the attorney attending a trust account management seminar, followed by six months of OLR supervision of the attorney's trust account records. The attorney had no prior disciplinary history, and there was no harm to any client.

    Failure to Provide Competent Representation and to Promptly Return File

    Violations of SCR 20:1.1; 20:1.16(d)

    Plaintiffs in a civil case won money damages against defendants who had caused damage to the plaintiffs' land. When the plaintiffs filed a post-judgment motion, the defendants fired their counsel and hired a new attorney.

    The new attorney failed to provide competent representation to the clients, contrary to SCR 20:1.1. First, the new attorney moved to continue a pending motion hearing because the clients would be unavailable, but the attorney did not inform the court of his own unavailability. The attorney failed to arrange for another attorney to appear on the clients' behalf. Consequently, no one attended the hearing on the clients' behalf, and the court denied the motion for a continuance.

    Second, the attorney filed motions for relief from judgment and for an order granting an injunction, and the court found the motions to be frivolous. Third, the attorney filed an appeal but only indirectly referred to the statute on which he sought to base relief. The attorney also brought a motion for ineffective assistance of prior counsel, although that claim is available only in criminal law. The court of appeals found both the attorney's motions and the appeal frivolous, and ordered the attorney to personally pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees.

    The attorney also violated SCR 20:1.16(d) by failing to return the file to the clients after they requested it. The attorney attempted to charge the clients to have the file copied. The attorney returned the original file to the clients after the OLR's investigation.

    Failure to Communicate; Failure to Provide Competent Representation

    Violations of SCR 20:1.4(a), (b); 20:1.1

    A husband and wife hired a lawyer to assist them in defense of a foreclosure action against them. The couple was referred to the lawyer by a man they consulted regarding the foreclosure. The man, who was not a lawyer and had no formal training in foreclosure or bankruptcy, advertised in a local circular, offering advice to people with financial problems. The couple met with the man twice and paid him $300. Upon referring the couple to the lawyer, the man transferred $100 of the $300 to the lawyer.

    The lawyer spoke with the couple on the telephone and agreed to monitor the foreclosure action. The lawyer did not meet in person with the clients and did not discuss with them other options they might consider. Shortly after the couple was referred to him, the lawyer filed a notice of retainer in the foreclosure but did not file an answer to the foreclosure complaint.

    Several months later, the lender filed an affidavit of default, proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment, and other documents. The lender then filed a notice of motion and motion for judgment of foreclosure. The lender mailed copies of all the documents to the lawyer. The lawyer did not forward copies to the clients. Hearing no objection, the court entered a default judgment against the couple. The lawyer did not notify the clients of the judgment.

    The lawyer did not speak with the clients until 10 months later. At that time, the clients contacted the lawyer when a realtor they hired to list their property told them that the home had been sold in the foreclosure action. A sheriff's sale had been held, but the lawyer denied receiving notice of the sale until the lender applied for confirmation of the sale in documents filed with the court.

    The confirmation hearing was scheduled, but the lawyer did not receive notice of it until the day before the hearing. The lawyer objected to the untimely notice, and the court adjourned the confirmation hearing. The clients hired other counsel and immediately filed for bankruptcy, which resulted in a stay of the foreclosure. The stay was lifted four months later and the sheriff's sale was confirmed two months after the stay was lifted.

    By failing to provide the clients with copies of the default and judgment documents filed by the lender, the lawyer failed to keep the clients reasonably informed about the status of the foreclosure, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a).

    By failing to discuss or explore the clients' legal options, the lawyer failed to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the clients to make informed decisions regarding the foreclosure and failed to undertake the preparation necessary to provide competent representation. This conduct violated SCR 20:1.4(b) and 20:1.1.

    This reprimand was conditioned on the lawyer attending CLE seminars addressing law office management and legal ethics.

    Neglect; Failure to Properly Communicate with Client

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

    A man was sentenced to eight years in prison after his probation was revoked. The State Public Defender (SPD) appointed an attorney to represent him. During their discussions, the attorney and the client adopted the strategy of waiting to file a motion for relief until the client had served two years of the sentence and participated in a rehabilitation program.

    Consistent with the course of action adopted, there was no communication between the attorney and the client for almost a year. Then the client wrote to the attorney, asking for information regarding the status of the motion for relief. After receiving no response, the client wrote to the SPD. The client's attorney in another matter also wrote to the SPD-appointed attorney and relayed the client's request for contact. The client again wrote to the SPD. An attorney from the SPD office called the attorney, who said he would contact the client, file something on the case shortly, and notify the SPD of the action taken.

    After several months, the client again wrote to the attorney and, among other things, asked for a copy of the transcripts from the case. Four months later, after receiving no response from the attorney, the client filed a grievance. The attorney sent a copy of the transcript to the client more than a year after receiving the client's request. Although the attorney had told the SPD that he would file a motion on the case, he failed to file one.

    The attorney was privately reprimanded by consent for violating SCR 20:1.3, which states a "lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client," by failing to promptly file the motion; and SCR 20:1.4(a), which states a "lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information," by failing to respond to the client's requests to contact him and to provide requested information.

    Failure to Adequately Communicate Basis or Rate of Fee; Failure to Maintain Client Trust Account Records; Failure to Timely Provide Client's Case File to Successor Counsel

    Violations of SCR 20:1.5(b); 20:1.15(e); 20:1.16(d)

    An attorney continued to represent a criminal defendant after the attorney left the law firm at which he had first undertaken the representation. While the attorney was at the law firm, the client had been charged on an hourly basis, and advance fees were deposited to the firm's client trust account. When the attorney departed, the firm issued a trust account check to the attorney for approximately $1,300 for the remaining amount the client had in the firm's account.

    At about this same time, the attorney asked for and received another $4,000 payment from the client. The attorney asserted that it had been agreed that the $4,000, plus the $1,300 released from the firm's trust account, would constitute a flat fee for concluding the criminal representation. The client believed he would be entitled to a refund if the matter did not go to trial. The client entered into a plea agreement immediately before trial.

    The attorney is unable to establish whether he deposited either the $1,300 trust account check or the $4,000 fee payment into a client trust account. The attorney asserts that he opened a trust account for the brief time he was in solo practice before joining another firm, but states that after several subsequent moves the records have been lost and acknowledges he may have simply cashed both checks for his fees.

    The client made no immediate request for a refund. The client stated that he believed that the attorney would be doing post-conviction work for him to which the fees would be applied. In fact, the attorney did no post-conviction work and the client eventually retained new counsel. The client then sought to obtain his file and a refund but was unable to locate the attorney, who had since left the second law firm. A private detective was hired to locate the attorney. After the attorney was found, he failed to follow through on several promises to provide the file until he was personally confronted by the private detective. The attorney did not refund any fee.

    The attorney violated SCR 20:1.5(b) by failing to adequately communicate to his client the new basis or rate of his fee after leaving the first law firm; SCR 20:1.15(e), by failing to maintain any trust account records that would show whether the client's checks were deposited to a client trust account during the attorney's brief period of solo practice; and SCR 20:1.16(d), by failing to timely provide the client's case file to the successor counsel. The attorney had one prior private reprimand.

    Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate Basis or Rate of Fee; Failure to Cooperate with Investigation in Probate Matter

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3; 20:1.5(b); 22.03(2), (6)

    An attorney was retained to represent a woman as the personal representative of her aunt's estate. The attorney admits he never communicated the basis or rate of his fee to the client.

    About three months later, the attorney filed a petition for special administration naming the client as the special administrator to sell real estate owned by the client's aunt. The court granted the petition, and the property was sold.

    The attorney did no further work on the estate and did not communicate with his client for 13 months. He then advised the client that he would schedule a court hearing within the next three weeks. However, the attorney never scheduled the hearing and failed to further communicate with the client. Six months later, the client telephoned the attorney but the attorney did not return her call.

    The next month, a beneficiary filed a grievance with the OLR. At that time, the attorney had not even filed a petition to initiate probate proceedings. The following month, the attorney told OLR staff that he would communicate with the client to complete the administration of her aunt's estate. The attorney later advised OLR staff that he had set up a meeting with the client and that the meeting had taken place. However, he had neither communicated with the client to arrange a meeting nor met with the client.

    OLR staff subsequently wrote to the attorney. The attorney responded only after being personally served.

    By failing to initiate probate proceedings for the estate of the client's aunt for more than two years, the attorney failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing the client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. By failing to advise the client the basis of his fee, the attorney failed to communicate to a client the basis or rate of the fee before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b). By misrepresenting to the OLR that he had set up a meeting with the client and then subsequently misrepresenting to the OLR that he had met with the client, the attorney made misrepresentations to OLR staff in its investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(6). Additionally, by failing to respond to the grievance until he was personally served, the attorney failed to disclose fully and fairly in a written response all facts and circumstances concerning the alleged misconduct within 20 days after being served by ordinary mail, in violation of SCR 22.03(2).

    Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate with Client

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

    An attorney represented a couple regarding a dispute with a contractor. The attorney effectively represented the clients for the first six months and obtained the replacement of defectively-installed appliances. The attorney then drafted and sent to the clients for their review a letter outlining further claims. The letter asked the contractor to present the claims to its insurer and stated that the clients were prepared to file a civil action if the claims were not resolved. The clients almost immediately responded to the attorney with a few minor proposed changes to the letter. The clients believed that the letter would thereafter be sent. It was not, and the attorney acknowledged that she also failed to return subsequent phone calls from the clients.

    In her response to the clients' grievance, the attorney indicated she had concern about a $25 discrepancy in the revisions sent by the clients. The attorney asserted that she never told the clients about that concern because one of the clients had a heart condition.

    The attorney was privately reprimanded for failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in pursuing the clients' claims, contrary to SCR 20:1.3, and for failing to adequately communicate with the client, contrary to SCR 20:1.4(a). The attorney had no prior discipline.

    Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate with Client; Failure to Cooperate with OLR

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3; 20:1.4(b); 22.03

    An attorney represented a Wisconsin resident who was injured in Iowa while working for a Minnesota employer. The attorney did little work on the case and failed to discuss with the client the potential relief available in the various jurisdictions, contrary to SCR 20:1.3 and 20:1.4(b). The three-year statute of limitation expired in Iowa without the attorney commencing any action or obtaining a decision from the client that the action would be pursued elsewhere. The client eventually hired another attorney who was able to obtain a settlement in Minnesota. The attorney did not provide timely responses to OLR requests for a response regarding the grievance, in violation of SCR 22.03.

    The medical records that the attorney eventually presented provided evidence that the misconduct was directly caused by a medical condition that rendered the attorney unable to properly attend to the client's matters and the OLR investigation. The attorney had a prior public reprimand.