Public Reprimand of Michael J. Anderson
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Michael J. Anderson, Lake Mills, entered into an agreement for the imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A Wisconsin Supreme Court-appointed referee approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on Dec. 2, 2017, pursuant to SCR 22.09(3).
A woman hired Anderson in July 2014 to represent her in an already filed federal civil rights suit. The woman paid Anderson advanced fees totaling $2,100.
Anderson met with the client in November 2014. Despite her numerous subsequent calls to Anderson, the client did not receive any communication from him after the November 2014 meeting. Anderson states that from late 2014 into 2015 he was suffering from a depression that affected his ability to fulfill his duty to the client. By continuing to represent the client when his depression kept him from fulfilling his duties to the client, Anderson violated SCR 20:1.16(a)(2).
Adverse counsel filed Defendants’ Civil L.R. 7(h) Expedited Non-Dispositive Motion to Compel Discovery on March 5, 2015. Anderson did not provide the client with a copy of this motion nor did he inform her of it. At a hearing on March 30, 2015, the court granted the motion to compel discovery.
On April 6, 2015, the court ordered that if the plaintiff did not respond to the defendants’ discovery demands by April 17, 2015, counsel for the defendant could file an affidavit informing the court of that fact. It advised that upon receipt of such an affidavit, the court would dismiss the action for lack of prosecution. Anderson did not provide the client with a copy of this order nor did he inform her of it. By failing to ever comply with the defendants’ discovery requests, Anderson violated SCR 20:3.4(d).
Adverse counsel filed a declaration stating that discovery responses had not been received, and on April 24, 2015, the court dismissed the suit with prejudice. By failing to advance the client’s interests in the civil rights lawsuit, Anderson violated SCR 20:1.3.
Anderson, without the client’s knowledge or consent, entered into a stipulation regarding taxable costs on May 8, 2015. By stipulating as to terms attached to the adverse parties’ waiver of costs without having informed the client of that issue, Anderson violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(1).
In February 2016, the client sent an email to Anderson, inquiring into the status of her case. Anderson informed the client that the court had dismissed the case based on the client’s refusal to comply with the defendants’ discovery requests. By failing to timely inform the client of case developments, including adverse counsel’s motion to compel discovery, the court’s granting of that motion, the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, and his stipulation regarding taxable costs, Anderson violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
Anderson agreed to refund the unearned portion of the $2,100 advanced fee.
Anderson had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Tiffany Luther
On Nov. 28, 2017, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Tiffany Luther, Las Vegas, Nev. In addition, the court ordered that Luther pay the full $7,414.04 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Luther, 2017 WI 98.
The reprimand to which Luther and the OLR stipulated was based on Luther’s representation of two separate clients, M.M. and J.B., in connection with her position as “engagement counsel” for Morgan Drexen Inc. (MDI), a now defunct debt-settlement company. Both clients contacted MDI for assistance in resolving their debts so they could avoid bankruptcy. MDI enrolled each in its program, which required monthly payments that were first applied to MDI’s fee before any debts were paid. In the meantime, MDI instructed the clients to stop paying their creditors. The clients also paid MDI a monthly fee purportedly for legal services, but they received no meaningful legal services for these fees.
As MDI’s engagement counsel in Wisconsin, Luther was aware of MDI’s practices and approved the forms that clients were required to sign at the outset of the representation. Luther, however, never consulted with the clients to discuss whether MDI’s program would achieve the clients’ objectives, which was unlikely given that none of the clients’ creditors would be paid until MDI received all its fees. The creditors remained free to pursue collection of the debts.
Luther stipulated to 10 violations, including violations of 1) SCR 20:1.4(a)(2) and (b) with respect to both clients, by failing to discuss MDI’s plan with them or explain other alternatives and options they could pursue to achieve their objectives; 2) SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), by failing to provide both clients copies of letters sent to creditors on their behalf and accurately inform the clients of actions taken on their behalf; 3) SCR 20:1.5(a), by charging both clients fees for which they received no meaningful services; and 4) SCR 20:1.5(b)(1), by failing to explain to both clients the purpose and effect of the advanced payments they were making.
With respect to her representation of M.M., Luther also violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), by not informing the client of a default and right to cure notice received from one of the client’s creditors, and SCR 20:1.16(d), by failing to promptly refund unearned fees upon termination of the representation.
Luther had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ronald L. Brandt
On Dec. 15, 2017, the supreme court revoked the law license of Ronald L. Brandt, Massachusetts. The disciplinary proceeding was brought under SCR 22.22. Brandt defaulted, and no costs were imposed. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Brandt, 2017 WI 103. The discipline was reciprocal to an indefinite suspension imposed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on Jan. 30, 2017.
Brandt’s misconduct occurred in three client matters and involved numerous violations of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. Brandt also failed to cooperate with Massachusetts lawyer regulators and failed to comply with a suspension imposed as a result of his lack of cooperation.
Brandt received a Wisconsin public reprimand in 2011, which also was reciprocal to discipline imposed in Massachusetts.
Public Reprimand of Matthew T. Luening
The OLR and Matthew T. Luening, 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 Dec. 7, 2017, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
On April 29, 2015, a married couple hired Luening to represent the husband in a postconviction relief and immigration matter and the wife in an immigration proceeding. Luening and the clients signed a fee agreement for Luening’s representation.
The written fee agreement did not contain the notices or otherwise signal intent to comply with the alternative-placement measures for advanced fees permitted under former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m) or current SCR 20:1.5(g). The clients paid Luening a $3,000 advanced fee for Luening’s representation. Luening deposited the $3,000 advanced-fee payment into his business account.
On July 7, 2016, the court denied the husband’s motion for postconviction relief. In an order denying motion and canceling hearing, dated July 7, 2016, the court stated, “The motion is summarily denied, because defendant has not set forth anything more than unsupported assertions as to the issues raised. Specifically, defendant has submitted an affidavit dated May 20th, 2016. However the affidavit on its face is invalid.” The court further stated, “The court observes defendant’s signature does not appear on the document.”
On Sept. 20, 2016, the wife and Luening did not appear for an interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in Milwaukee. In a Sept. 22, 2016 decision, the USCIS Field Office Director stated, “On September 20, 2016, USCIS requested that you appear for an interview about your application, but you did not appear as requested. Because you did not appear as requested, USCIS considers your application abandoned and, therefore, denies it.”
Throughout the representation, Luening did not keep the clients reasonably informed about the status of their matters. In or around February 2017, Luening provided the clients with a cashier’s check in the amount of $1,500 as a partial refund of the $3,000 advanced fee.
By filing an invalid affidavit in support of motion for postconviction relief resulting in the court denying the husband’s motion for postconviction relief, and by failing to appear for the wife’s interview on Sept. 20, 2016, resulting in the denial of the wife’s application, Luening violated SCR 20:1.3.
By failing to keep the clients reasonably informed about the status of their cases, Luening violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
By failing to hold the advanced fee in trust, without acting in a manner indicating an intention to use alternative-fee-placement measures, Luening violated former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (in effect before July 1, 2016) and current SCR 20:1.5(f).
By notarizing the husband’s unsigned affidavit in support of motion for postconviction relief, Luening violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
Luening was publicly reprimanded on Feb. 28, 2017.
Disciplinary Proceeding Against Robert W. Horsch
On Dec. 21, 2017, the supreme court suspended the law license of Robert W. Horsch for 60 days. In addition, the court ordered that Horsch pay the $1,797.03 cost of the disciplinary proceeding and imposed several conditions on Horsch’s license to practice law, should his license be reinstated. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Horsch, 2017 WI 105.
In September 2014, Horsch was found passed out in a vehicle. Because of prior operating while intoxicated (OWI) convictions, Horsch was not to drive with an alcohol concentration higher than 0.02 percent. A blood analysis showed Horsch’s alcohol concentration to be 0.24 percent. Additionally, Horsch was driving with an occupational license and was operating outside of approved hours.
In April 2015, Horsch pleaded no contest to, and was convicted of, fourth-offense OWI, a class H felony, and operating while revoked, an unclassified misdemeanor. By engaging in the conduct leading to that conviction, Horsch violated SCR 20:8.4(b). Horsch failed to report his conviction to the OLR and to the supreme court clerk, in violation of SCR 21.15(5) and SCR 20:8.4(f). Additionally, Horsch failed to respond to two investigative letters from the OLR, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and (6).
Horsch argued unsuccessfully that because his law license has been administratively suspended since 2013, he was no longer subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In 2015, Horsch was privately reprimanded following his criminal conviction for third-offense OWI and for practicing law while his license was suspended.
Disciplinary Proceeding Against Michael D. Petersen
On Dec. 15, 2017, the supreme court suspended the law license of Michael D. Petersen, Appleton, for one year, commencing Jan. 26, 2018. In addition, the court ordered that Petersen pay the $2,110.29 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Petersen, 2017 WI 102.
Petersen stipulated to nine counts of misconduct based on his interactions with a client and the client’s father. Petersen represented the client on criminal charges in Outagamie County. Before the client’s plea hearing, Petersen misrepresented to the client that he had reached a plea deal with the assistant district attorney (ADA) that would allow the client to plead guilty to the lesser felony of theft from a person, rather than to armed robbery. In truth, the plea offer was that the ADA would dismiss two misdemeanor charges in exchange for the client’s guilty plea to the felony with which he was charged – attempted armed robbery. Petersen convinced his client to enter a no-contest plea to the more severe felony by promising that the charge would be amended after the plea hearing.
After the client’s conviction, the client’s father urged Petersen to complete the promised paperwork to correct the client’s conviction. Petersen continued to provide the father assurances that the conviction would be amended and made numerous misrepresentations to the father regarding communications Petersen purportedly had with the ADA and with the judge.
Petersen eventually provided the client’s father with a fabricated order bearing the judge’s signature and showing that the client’s conviction had been amended. The father presented the document to the clerk of court’s office to confirm its authenticity. The clerk’s office suspected that the order was not authentic and reported the potential forgery to the Appleton Police Department. In the course of the investigations conducted by the clerk’s office and the Appleton police, Petersen denied that he fabricated the order; he also made misrepresentations about its origin and implied that the client’s father may have created it.
Petersen eventually admitted that he had fabricated the order to get the client’s father “off his back.” Petersen was charged in August 2015 with misdemeanor contempt of court. He pleaded no contest and was convicted of the charge on Nov. 19, 2015.
The misconduct to which Petersen stipulated consisted of five separate violations of SCR 20:8.4(c) – engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation – by his various actions in misleading the client and then attempting to conceal that dishonest conduct. Petersen also violated SCR 20:1.2(a), by failing to abide by the client’s decision as to the plea he was willing to enter; SCR 20:1.4(b), by communicating false information to the client; and SCR 20:3.3(a)(1), by making false statements to the court about the origin of the forged order. Finally, Petersen violated SCR 20:8.4(b) by committing a criminal act.
Petersen had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Alan R. Stewart
On Dec. 21, 2017, the supreme court suspended the law license of Alan R. Stewart, Appleton, for 60 days, effective Nov. 26, 2017, to run concurrent with the nine-month license suspension imposed in Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stewart, 2017 WI 41, 374 Wis. 2d 642, 893 N.W.2d 572, and ordered him to pay the full $805.85 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stewart, 2017 WI 106.
Stewart was admitted to the practice of law in Wisconsin in 1992. On March 19, 2001, Stewart registered as a patent attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Stewart’s nine-month suspension, imposed April 26, 2017, involved violations of SCR 20:1.3; SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4); SCR 20:1.5(a); SCR 20:1.16(d); SCR 20:8.4(c); and SCR 22:03(2) and (6), enforced via 20:8.4(h). See Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stewart, 2017 WI 41, 374 Wis. 2d 642.
On June 16, 2017, the OLR filed a complaint against Stewart alleging three counts of misconduct pertaining to his continuing to practice law before the USPTO. USPTO regulations require that trademark matters be handled by a registered attorney, defined as “an individual who is a member in good standing in the highest court of any state.” On Feb. 10, 2015, the supreme court temporarily suspended Stewart's law license as a result of his failure to cooperate in two separate OLR investigations. Further, Stewart has been administratively suspended in Kentucky and Minnesota, since at least 2013, for nonpayment of bar dues.
Stewart filed documents or otherwise took action in four different trademark matters on March 16, 2015, April 27, 2015, May 18, 2015, and June 6, 2015. On Oct. 2, 2015, the Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED) filed a complaint with the USPTO against Stewart relating to his continuing practice before the USPTO while not being a member in good standing in any state bar. Stewart did not respond to the OED complaint and was eventually deemed to be in default.
The USPTO issued an initial decision and order on default judgment on Dec. 16, 2015, and excluded Stewart from practice before the USPTO.
Although Stewart was given the opportunity to file an answer and present a defense to the OLR's complaint, he failed to do so and advised the referee that he had no objection to being deemed in default. Accordingly, the court declared him to be in default.
By continuing to practice trademark law before the USPTO despite not being a member in good standing in any state bar, Stewart violated SCR 20:5.5(a)(1). By representing himself to the USPTO as an attorney of record in Wisconsin in four separate trademark applications, despite knowing that he was suspended from the practice of law, Stewart violated SCR 20:8.4(c). By willfully failing to provide the OLR with a written response to its investigation, Stewart violated SCR 22.03(2) and (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).