Disciplinary Proceedings Against Philip A. Shepherd
In a June 23, 2017, decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Philip A. Shepherd, Fond du Lac. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shepherd, 2017 WI 66. The court ordered Shepherd to pay $622.50 in restitution to former client J.B. and $1,000 in restitution to the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection in connection with the claim of another former client, I.P. The court lifted its March 7, 2016, temporary suspension of Shepherd’s law license imposed as a result of his failure to cooperate with an underlying Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) investigation.
Shepherd’s administrative suspensions relating to his failure to pay mandatory bar dues, file a trust account certification, and comply with continuing legal education requirements remain in effect until the reason for each administrative suspension is rectified. Further, the court ordered Shepherd to pay the $1,887.96 cost of the proceeding. Finally, the court granted Shepherd’s petition to voluntarily surrender his Wisconsin law license.
Shepherd’s misconduct occurred in three separate matters. In the first matter, Shepherd accepted a $2,000 advanced fee from J.B. for legal work without a written fee agreement, when it was reasonably foreseeable that the total cost of the representation would exceed $1,000, and later did exceed $1,000, thereby violating SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2).
Shepherd failed to place the advanced fee into his trust account, without evidence of an intention to comply with the advanced-fee alternative procedure contained in former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m) (now SCR 20:1.5(g)(1)), thereby violating former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (now SCR 20:1.5(g)). He failed to respond to client requests for information regarding fees and a final accounting, violating SCR 20:1.5(b)(3), and failed to refund unearned fees, violating SCR 20:1.16(d).
In the second matter, Shepherd failed to take steps to complete work on behalf of client I.P. relating to the sale and transfer of a farm, violating SCR 20:1.3. Shepherd failed to respond to status inquiries or otherwise keep I.P. informed regarding the status of her matter, violating SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4). He also failed to place advanced fees into his trust account, without evidence of an intention to follow the former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m) (now SCR 20:1.5(g)(1)) advanced-fee alternative procedure, thereby violating former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (now SCR 20:1.5(g)).
In the third matter, Shepherd practiced law while his license was suspended, violating SCR 22.26(2), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f). He also willfully failed to respond to an OLR request for information, violating SCR 22.03(6), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h)
Shepherd had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Mark Alan Ruppelt
On July 7, 2017, the supreme court suspended the law license of Mark Ruppelt, Milwaukee, for 15 months, effective Aug. 18, 2017, and ordered him to pay the $16,743.46 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. The court also ordered the referee to file a supplemental report on the issue of restitution within 120 days. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ruppelt, 2017 WI 80.
The suspension was based on 16 counts of misconduct stemming from Ruppelt’s representation of a client in related criminal and civil matters.
Between 2006 and 2008, at least $170,332.55 in fee advances were deposited to the firm’s trust account. In 2007, Ruppelt needed funds to purchase a home and directed law firm staff to disburse $50,000 from the trust account to the firm and attribute it to this client’s matter. He then directed staff to disburse the $50,000 to him, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(b)(1) and SCR 20:8.4(c). Several months later, Ruppelt replaced the $50,000 with personal funds and directed staff to deposit those funds to the trust account, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(b)(3) and SCR 20:8.4(c). During the OLR’s investigation, Ruppelt provided false testimony under oath about these funds, in violation of SCR 22.03(6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Ruppelt was also responsible for disbursing to the firm as much as $104,644.68 more than the firm had earned, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) and SCR 20:8.4(c); and for disbursing as much as $134,446.88 without written notice to the client, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(g)(1). In addition, Ruppelt charged the client $395 per hour for work performed by his legal assistant and an associate whose hourly rate was $200, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(a).
In 2008, Ruppelt used a client’s power of attorney to liquidate a life insurance policy without consulting the client, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(2). He also failed to provide the client with a full written accounting of the client’s funds, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(d)(2).
In response to court-ordered discovery in the civil action, Ruppelt produced 12 invoices that had either been created or altered in 2010, a retainer agreement dated July 9, 2006 that had been signed by the client in July 2010, and a trust account ledger that omitted the $50,000 transactions and the life insurance proceeds. By doing so, he violated SCR 20:8.4(c) and SCR 20:3.4(d). Ruppelt also filed a false affidavit in that action, in violation of SCR 20:3.3(a)(1).
During the OLR’s investigation, Ruppelt falsely represented to the OLR that he had provided invoices to the client and that he had provided an accurate trust account ledger to opposing counsel and the client, in violation of SCR 22.03(6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Ruppelt had a public reprimand in 2014 for engaging in improper sexual relations with a client and providing false information to his law firm and the OLR regarding that conduct.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Matthew R. Schwitzer
The supreme court suspended the law license of Matthew R. Schwitzer, Green Bay, for six months, effective June 1, 2017. The court also ordered Schwitzer to pay the $1,661.68 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schwitzer, 2017 WI 53.
On Feb. 4, 2014, Schwitzer was convicted in Brown County of unlawful phone use – threatens harm, a Class B misdemeanor; possession of THC, an unclassified misdemeanor; and possession of cocaine/coca, an unclassified misdemeanor. Other charges were dismissed but read in.
On Oct. 20, 2014, Schwitzer fell asleep or lost consciousness while driving, drifted out of his lane of travel, and sideswiped another driver’s car. The police officer who interacted with Schwitzer at the scene observed that Schwitzer was unsteady, shaking, and sweating, had dilated pupils, and was having a hard time forming sentences and was slurring his words. When the officer asked Schwitzer to turn off his car, the officer noticed there was a passenger in the car who was not breathing. The officer performed CPR until other emergency services providers arrived and administered Narcan, at which time the passenger regained consciousness. Upon searching Schwitzer’s car, officers found a plastic baggie containing cocaine and a $20 bill that tested positive for cocaine.
On April 3, 2015, Schwitzer pleaded guilty and was convicted of possession of cocaine, as a party to a crime, an unclassified misdemeanor. A second count for possession of drug paraphernalia was dismissed but read in.
By engaging in the conduct leading to his conviction of four misdemeanors, Schwitzer violated SCR 20:8.4(b).
By failing to cooperate with an OLR investigation, Schwitzer violated SCR 22.03(6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Schwitzer’s Wisconsin law license was suspended three times: in 2013 for failure to pay State Bar of Wisconsin dues and failure to file trust account certifications; in 2014 for failure to comply with continuing legal education reporting requirements; and on Sept. 25, 2014, for failure to cooperate with an OLR investigation.
By causing the firm’s website, which he controlled, to hold Schwitzer out as a lawyer admitted to practice law in Wisconsin when his license was suspended, Schwitzer violated SCR 20:5.5(b)(2) and SCR 20:7.1(a).
While incarcerated in the Brown County jail on Aug. 20, 2013, by accessing his law firm’s trust account from another inmate’s contraband cell phone, Schwitzer made client and third-party funds vulnerable to third-party access, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(b)(1).
By attempting to transfer funds from his law firm’s trust account by using a fellow inmate’s contraband cell phone, Schwitzer either attempted to make a disbursement by telephone transfer, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)(b), or attempted to make a disbursement by internet transaction, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)(c), both in effect through June 30, 2016.
Schwitzer had no prior discipline.
Public Reprimand of James T. Runyon
The OLR and James T. Runyon, Tomahawk, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A supreme court-appointed referee thereafter approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand in accordance with SCR 22.09(3) on July 20, 2017. The misconduct related to three separate matters.
In the first matter, Runyon represented a client in three separate cases: a foreclosure, the sale of the client’s business, and a criminal case. In each case, Runyon failed, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, to provide the client a written communication stating the scope of the representation, the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client would be responsible, and the purpose and effect of any fees advanced by the client. Runyon thereby violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2). Runyon violated former SCR 20:1.15(g)(1), effective through June 30, 2016, by failing to provide notice to the client at least five business days before the date on which a disbursement was made from his trust account for the purpose of paying fees.
In the second matter, Runyon represented a client in a felony case. Although he agreed to pay some portion of the client’s personal bills and expenses while she was incarcerated, by failing to enter a written agreement or otherwise confirm with the client precisely which of her personal bills he would pay from the funds belonging to the client that he had in his possession as her power of attorney, Runyon violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(2).
By failing to timely enter into a written fee agreement with the client, Runyon violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2). Upon conclusion of the representation, by failing to timely comply with the client’s request for a full accounting of her funds that he had held in his trust account, Runyon violated former SCR 20:1.15(d)(2), effective through June 30, 2016.
In the third matter, by failing to enter into a written fee agreement with a client he was representing in a lawsuit against her bank, Runyon violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2). By disbursing the client’s entire advanced fee before he had earned it, Runyon violated former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4), effective through June 30, 2016. By disbursing the client’s advanced fee from his trust account without providing the client any prior notice of the disbursement, Runyon violated former SCR 20:1.15(g)(1), effective through June 30, 2016.
Runyon was suspended for one year in 1984, received a private reprimand in 2006, and was suspended for 60 days in 2015.