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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 01, 2015

    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

    Hearing to Reinstate Walter Stern

    A public hearing will be held before referee Dennis Flynn at 9 a.m., on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, at the Kenosha County Center, Conference Room B, 19600 75th St., Bristol, on the petition of Walter Stern, Kenosha, to reinstate his license to practice law. Any interested person may appear at the hearing and be heard in support of or in opposition to the petition for reinstatement.

    On May 21, 2013, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended Stern’s law license for two years for committing federal criminal misconduct (conspiring to commit money laundering) and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. After Stern spent roughly six months in federal prison, his conviction was overturned.

    To be reinstated, Stern 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 order of suspension or revocation and with SCR 22.26.

    Relevant information may be provided to or obtained from OLR investigator Melody Rader-Johnson or OLR retained counsel Robert Krohn. The OLR’s toll-free telephone number is (877) 315-6941. Krohn’s office phone is (608) 884-3391.

    Public Reprimand of Howard Mitz

    On April 3, 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Howard B. Mitz, Mequon. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Mitz, 2015 WI 37. The court also ordered Mitz to pay the $6,706.79 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. 

    Mitz represented his cousin (the client) in a personal injury action. In summer 2006, Mitz helped the client apply for a pre-settlement loan in the amount of $8,000, including helping prepare loan documents and notarizing documents, among which were an acknowledgement of the loan and the lien in favor of the lender. In May 2007, Mitz and the client reached a $100,000 settlement with the opposing party’s insurer. Mitz disbursed all the settlement proceeds but failed to notify the lender about the settlement. After learning of the settlement in February 2009, the lender contacted Mitz, who falsely claimed that he had not received the settlement proceeds. Later, he misrepresented to the lender that the funds were in his trust account and no one had been paid yet.

    After the lender filed a grievance with the Officer of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), Mitz misrepresented to the OLR that he first became aware that the client took out the loan and of the existence of the lender’s lien in 2008, after the settlement with the insurer. In August 2013, Mitz sent the lender a check for $11,637, the full balance due on the loan.

    By not timely notifying the lender of the settlement and delivering to the lender the funds to satisfy its lien, Mitz violated SCR 20:1.15(d)(l).

    By making false statements to the lender’s representatives, including that settlement proceeds were still in his trust account and that he was attempting to analyze the settlement disbursements, when Mitz knew that settlement proceeds had already been disbursed from his trust account, Mitz violated SCR 20:4.1(a)(1) and SCR 20:8.4(c).

    By misrepresenting in his March 29, 2012, letter to the OLR that he was unaware until some time in 2008 that his client had taken an $8,000 loan or that the lender had a lien against the client’s personal injury claim, Mitz violated SCR 20:8.4(c).

    Mitz had no prior discipline.

    Public Reprimand of Paul Polacek

    The OLR and Paul Polacek, Wisconsin Dells, 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 29, 2015, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3). The public reprimand stemmed from two matters the OLR investigated.

    In the first matter, the OLR received notice that Polacek’s IOLTA account was overdrawn.  Polacek explained that he did not have sufficient funds in his trust account to cover a payment to a client in settlement of a case. Polacek informed the OLR that he had moved offices and purchased new computers and at one point lost his computer data.

    Investigation of Polacek’s trust account revealed that Polacek had made multiple electronic transfers to and from his trust and operating accounts. The OLR asked Polacek to explain these transactions, reconstruct his transaction and client registers, and provide account statements from the relevant accounts.  Polacek agreed to provide to the OLR the requested information but ultimately failed to comply with the OLR’s request.

    By failing to comply with trust account rules designed to keep client funds separate and secure, Polacek violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1) and (e)(5). By failing to produce trust account records, as well as keep complete records, Polacek violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(7) and (f). By failing to respond to the OLR’s request for supplemental information, Polacek violated SCR 22.03(6), as enforced through SCR 20:8.4(h).

    The second matter involved a contentious divorce case. Several times during the case, Polacek filed pleadings or letters with the court without serving opposing counsel at all or without serving counsel in a timely manner. In each instance, opposing counsel complained to Polacek about the failed or untimely service of pleadings. Notwithstanding numerous oral and written requests from opposing counsel asking Polacek to serve pleadings in a timely fashion, Polacek and his staff continued to file pleadings with the court without serving counsel appropriately.  

    By filing pleadings and correspondence with the clerk of circuit court without forwarding copies to opposing counsel in a timely fashion, Polacek engaged in ex parte communications with the tribunal, in violation of SCR 20:3.5(b).  By failing to ensure that his assistant timely served filed pleadings and correspondence on opposing counsel, knowing that his assistant had failed on multiple occasions to follow specified service rules, and failing to remedy such lapses, Polacek violated SCR 20:5.3(c). By failing to serve copies of pleadings and correspondence filed with the clerk of circuit court on opposing counsel in a timely fashion, as required by Wis. Stat. section 801.14, Polacek violated
    SCR 20:8.4(f).

    Polacek received two unrelated private reprimands, in 2009 and 2011.

    Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ernesto Chavez

    On April 17, 2015, the supreme court suspended the law license of Ernesto Chavez, formerly of Madison, for one year. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Chavez, 2015 WI 39. The court also ordered Chavez to pay restitution of $7,000 to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, $3,000 to a client’s mother, and the $677.58 cost of the disciplinary proceeding.

    Chavez’s law license was previously administratively suspended on June 6, 2011, for failure to satisfy mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements, and his license has been suspended continuously since that date. Chavez’s law license also was suspended for nonpayment of mandatory State Bar dues. Effective April 23, 2012, Chavez’s license was suspended for failure to cooperate with various OLR investigations.

    Chavez’s disciplinary suspension was based on 41 counts of misconduct with respect to his handling of nine client matters.

    Chavez failed to provide a written fee agreement for an advanced fee of $1,500 in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2). He also charged unreasonable fees in four different matters, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(a).

    Chavez received fees in anticipation of providing legal representation in two different cases and, contrary to SCR 20:1.15(b)(4), deposited the funds into his general account instead of his trust account.

    Chavez violated SCR 20:1.16(d) in five separate cases by failing to return files, failing to return the unearned portion of advanced fees, failing to notify a client of an upcoming court date, and failing to protect a client’s appellate rights after he ended his representation.

    During his representation of three clients, Chavez failed to act with diligence and promptness, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. Chavez violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) when he failed to keep a client informed regarding case status.

    Chavez did not withdraw from three cases when he was temporarily suspended, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(a)(1). He continued to practice law in three matters after failing to comply with CLE requirements in violation of SCR 31.10(1) and SCR 22.26(2), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f).

    In seven of the nine matters, Chavez violated SCR 22.26(1)(a), (b), or (c), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f), when he failed to provide notice of his suspension to clients, courts, and opposing counsel. Chavez engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in three cases, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c).

      In all nine client matters, Chavez failed to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).

    Chavez was privately reprimanded in 2008 for failure to keep clients informed of the status of their case and failure to respond to numerous requests for information.

    Public Reprimand of David L. Grace

    The OLR and David L. Grace, Wisconsin Rapids, 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 April 21, 2015.

    Grace represented a client in a divorce. Grace was supposed to complete a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) to obtain funds awarded to the client as part of a marital settlement agreement. 

    Grace engaged in significant delay in the QDRO matter, evidenced by gaps in necessary contact with the adverse party of 20 months in one instance and 10 months in another instance. Grace failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. 

    In violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(2), Grace failed to properly consult with the client after identifying the QDRO as the means necessary for the client to obtain IRA funds awarded in the divorce.

    By failing to update his client regarding the status of the QDRO matter after a Sept. 22, 2010, letter until meeting with the client in or around March 2013 regarding an upcoming hearing, Grace violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3). By informing the client that he was terminating the representation only eight days before that same hearing, and only informing the client of the hearing by enclosing the notice of hearing with a letter sent almost a month after the notice was issued, Grace violated SCR 20:1.16(d).  

    Grace received a private reprimand in 1999 for violations of SCR 20:1.3 and SCR 20:1.7(b), a private reprimand in 2004 for violations of SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a), and SCR 20:1.16(d), and a public reprimand in 2011 for violations of SCR 20:1.2(a), SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a), and SCR 20:1.16(d).

    Public Reprimand of Paul Strouse

    The OLR and Paul Strouse, Milwaukee, 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 May 12, 2015, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).

    On June 2, 2014, the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) administratively suspended Strouse’s law license pursuant to SCR 31.10 for noncompliance with Wisconsin mandatory CLE requirements for the 2012-13 reporting year. Notice of the suspension was sent to Strouse on June 3, 2014, and received by him at noon on June 4, 2014. Strouse’s license was reinstated on June 12, 2014.

    During the administrative suspension, Strouse appeared on behalf of a client in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy matter, and, in addition, appeared on behalf of a client at a 341 hearing. Further, Strouse filed a Chapter 13 petition as well as a Chapter 7 petition in two other matters while under administrative suspension. When Strouse filed his petition for reinstatement with the BBE, he informed the BBE of his personal appearances in two bankruptcy matters, but neglected to inform the BBE that he had filed the Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 petitions while under suspension.

    By engaging in the practice of law while his law license was suspended for failure to comply with CLE requirements, Strouse violated SCR 31.10 and SCR 22.26(2), which are enforced under the Rules of Professional Conduct.

    By failing to inform the BBE in his petition for reinstatement that he also filed two bankruptcy petitions during the period of suspension, including one filed after his receipt of the notice of suspension, Strouse violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which provides, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … (c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

    Strouse received two prior public reprimands, in 2010 and 2011.

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