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 www.wicourts.gov/olr.
Reinstatement (with Conditions) of Patrick M. Cooper
On March 30, 2018, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the law license of Patrick M. Cooper, Mequon, with conditions, and ordered Cooper to pay the $3,828.81 cost of the reinstatement proceedings. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper, 2018 WI 22. As of the court’s March 30, 2018 order, Cooper’s law license was also administratively suspended for failure to pay mandatory bar dues. The court ordered that Cooper’s administrative suspension remain in effect until rectified.
On March 23, 2007, the court suspended Cooper's license for three years for 35 separate instances of professional misconduct affecting seven clients and a retained expert. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper, 2007 WI 37. In December 2010, Cooper filed a petition for reinstatement. At that time, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) resumed the investigation of nine matters that had been on hold because of Cooper’s previous noncooperation. Facing additional discipline for the reopened matters, Cooper stipulated to the dismissal of his reinstatement petition. On June 26, 2013, the court suspended Cooper’s license for an additional two years, to run consecutive to Cooper’s 2007 suspension. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper, 2013 WI 55.
On March 30, 2017, Cooper filed a second petition for reinstatement. The court granted Cooper’s petition for reinstatement, with the conditions below.
1) Cooper will be monitored by a lawyer, approved and appointed by the OLR, for two years following reinstatement, and will not begin representing clients until the monitor has been appointed.
2) Cooper must cooperate fully with the monitoring of his law practice, including scheduling with the monitor regular meetings as directed by the OLR, and must submit to the monitor an inventory of all active client files by the first day of each month during the period of monitoring, including the client name, type of representation, date opened, most recent activity, next anticipated action, and anticipated closing date.
3) Within 30 days after the court’s order, Cooper must provide the OLR and the monitor with a written plan outlining office procedures designed to ensure that Cooper is and remains in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, including procedures that ensure that Cooper promptly responds to correspondence, telephone calls, and other important communications from clients, courts, and other persons interested in legal matters that Cooper is handling, reviews every file and completes legal matters on a timely basis, maintains law office and trust account records in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, and, makes available to the monitor and to the OLR his law office and trust account records at such intervals as the OLR and the monitor deem necessary.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against James Toran
On April 5, 2018, the supreme court suspended the law license of James Toran for 60 days, effective May 17, 2018. In addition, the court ordered that Toran pay $500 restitution and the $2,188.05 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Toran, 2018 WI 26.
Toran failed to enter into a written fee agreement with a client when the total cost of the representation exceeded $1,000, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1); failed to deposit into his trust account an advanced payment of fees made on the client’s behalf, absent any evidence that he complied with the alternative protection for fees available under former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m) (current SCR 20:1.5(g)), in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (current SCR 20:1.5(f)); and failed to refund $500 in advanced fees paid in contemplation of him filing a writ of certiorari, when no such work was completed, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(d).
In suspending Toran, the court considered that this is Toran’s fifth disciplinary proceeding. In 1989, Toran’s license to practice law was suspended for six months. In 1991, he was publicly reprimanded. In 2007, he received a private reprimand. In 2012, he was again publicly reprimanded.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Linda L. Gray
On April 18, 2018, the supreme court suspended the law license of Linda L. Gray, East Troy, for 60 days, effective May 30, 2018. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Gray, 2018 WI 39. The court also ordered Gray to pay the $2,067.67 cost of the disciplinary proceeding.
Gray committed one count of professional misconduct in connection with her drafting of a client’s will. Although Gray was not related to the client, Gray received a significant testamentary gift.
Gray had known the client since the mid-1980s. The two became close friends and remained so for many years. The client never married, had no children, and was estranged from her siblings and other relatives. During the client’s final illness, Gray spent a great deal of time attending to the client’s needs. The care provided by Gray included, but was not limited to, taking the client to and from many required medical appointments.
In 2013, the client asked Gray to draft a will to replace the will Gray had drafted for her in 2000. Gray drafted the will in accordance with the client’s instructions: no bequests were to be made to any of the client’s siblings or other relatives; specific bequests were to be made to certain charities; and the balance of the estate was to be distributed to Gray. The client signed the will before witnesses in September 2013. There is no dispute that the client had testamentary capacity when she signed the will. After the client’s death in January 2015, the will went through probate without contest. Gray served as the personal representative. Gray received $298,742.12 from the client’s estate.
Gray violated SCR 20:1.8(c) by drafting the client’s will, given that Gray was not related to the client and received a significant residuary gift under the terms of the will.
Gray’s only prior discipline was a private reprimand imposed in the 1980s.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Michael Leslie Cummings
On Jan. 19, 2018, the supreme court suspended the Wisconsin law license of Michael Leslie Cummings, Round Lake Heights, Ill., fox six months as discipline reciprocal to a March 20, 2017, Illinois Supreme Court decision suspending Cummings’ Illinois law license for six months. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cummings, 2018 WI 8.
The six-month Illinois suspension resulted from Cummings’ failing to file a mechanic’s lien and then fabricating a lien document, which he provided to the client. Cummings’ conduct violated rules 1.3, 1.4(a)(3), and 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.
Cummings had no prior Wisconsin discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Daniel J. Rostollan
The supreme court suspended the law license of Daniel J. Rostollan, Plymouth, for two years effective April 18, 2018. The court ordered Rostollan to pay $4,690 in restitution to a former client and the $2,663.71 cost of the proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Rostollan, 2018 WI 38.
The suspension was based on 21 counts of misconduct arising in two client matters, Rostollan’s practicing while suspended, and Rostollan’s misconduct during the OLR’s investigations.
Rostollan represented a client in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and adversary claims. Rostollan violated SCR 20:1.l5(b)(1) by failing to safeguard and hold in trust client funds.
Rostollan violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by converting client funds, making misrepresentations to the client, and filing with the bankruptcy court documents that included false or inaccurate information.
By failing to disclose to the bankruptcy court that he intended to or had charged his client $4,690 for two adversary proceedings, in addition to the $4,000 presumptively reasonable fee, Rostollan failed to comply with 11 U.S.C. § 329, rule 2016(b) of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, and the bankruptcy court’s policy, in violation of SCR 20:3.4(c).
Rostollan violated SCR 20:1.7(a)(2) by representing the client in the bankruptcy after the client had made claims against Rostollan for misuse of the client’s funds.
Rostollan represented a couple in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Rostollan violated SCR 20:1.3 by failing to file the couple’s Chapter 13 plan or a motion for an extension to file the plan.
Rostollan violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) by failing to clearly and accurately communicate to the clients when their petition would be filed and failing to timely inform them of the dismissal of their bankruptcy or his intent to file a motion to reconsider.
Rostollan violated SCR 20:1.16(a)(3) and (d) by appearing on the clients’ behalf without advising the court they had terminated his representation and without clarifying with the clients whether they wanted him to appear.
Rostollan violated SCR 20:3.3(a)(1) by making false statements to the bankruptcy court or by failing to correct false statements previously made.
Rostollan violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by causing, or failing to correct, the bankruptcy court’s mistaken belief that the clients had been presented with a Chapter 13 plan for signature before the dismissal of their case and had failed to agree to that plan; and, notarizing an affidavit as “Subscribed and sworn to before me,” when it was not signed in Rostollan’s presence.
Rostollan also failed to communicate in writing the rate and basis for his fees or the purpose and effect of advanced fee payments in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2) and former SCR 20:1.l5(e)(4)c. and SCR 20:1.l5(b)(4).
Rostollan violated SCR 22.03(2) and (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h), by sending the OLR fabricated and misleading documents, making misrepresentations to the OLR, and failing to timely respond to the OLR’s requests.
On Dec. 2, 2015, the court temporarily suspended Rostollan’s law license. Rostollan practiced law before his Jan. 19, 2016, reinstatement, in violation of SCR 22.26(2).
Rostollan had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceeding Against Richard W. Steffes
On April 10, 2018, the supreme court granted the petition of Richard W. Steffes, Beaver Dam, for the consensual revocation of his law license. In addition, the court ordered that Steffes pay restitution of $11,384.88 to the estate for which he formerly served as guardian. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Steffes, 2018 WI 31.
Steffes’ misconduct occurred while serving as the court-appointed guardian for an incompetent ward. Steffes had been appointed the ward’s successor guardian in 1975. In 2015, the circuit court determined that Steffes had been delinquent in filing annual reports and accountings for 2010-2013. In September 2015, pursuant to a petition filed by the county department of human services, the circuit court removed Steffes as guardian and appointed a successor guardian. The court also appointed a guardian ad litem to review Steffes’ conduct.
In May 2016, the guardian ad litem filed a report in the circuit court, stating that Steffes had failed in his duties as guardian in several respects, including by giving the ward monthly payments in cash, taking money from the ward’s account that went directly to Steffes, and failing to monitor the ward’s bank account, causing unnecessary charges against the account. After providing Steffes an opportunity to respond to the guardian ad litem’s report and conducting a final hearing, the court issued an order on Sept. 20, 2016, finding that Steffes committed waste of the ward’s assets. The court ordered Steffes to pay $11,384.88 to the guardianship estate as well as $9,000 for guardian ad litem fees. Steffes failed to make the ordered payments.
Following the circuit court’s October 2016 report of Steffes’ conduct to the OLR, Steffes failed to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation, and his law license was eventually suspended for that reason, pursuant to SCR 22.03(4). Steffes’ law license remained continuously suspended since March 13, 2017.
In September 2017, the OLR filed a six-count disciplinary action against Steffes, alleging violations of SCR 20:1.1, which requires competent representation; SCR 20:1.3, which requires a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client; SCR 20:3.4(c), which requires a lawyer to comply with court orders; SCR 20:8.4(c), which prohibits conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and SCR 22.03(2) and (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h), relating to the duty to cooperate with OLR investigations.
In addition to charging the above misconduct in a public complaint, the OLR had been investigating Steffes’ conduct in an estate matter involving issues of diligence, communication, practice during suspension, and failing to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation. Steffes filed a petition for consensual license revocation, pursuant to SCR 22.19, on Feb.15, 2018. The supreme court granted the petition, given the serious nature of the violations, which were committed over a period of several years and included misappropriation of funds from a vulnerable person whom Steffes served as guardian.
Steffes was publicly reprimanded in 2014 for allowing his son, who is not a lawyer, to use his trust account.
Public Reprimand of Holly Lynn Fulkerson
On April 20, 2018, the supreme court approved the stipulation filed by Holly Lynn Fulkerson (formerly known as Holly Lynn Strop) and the OLR pursuant to SCR 22.12. The court adopted the stipulated findings of fact and conclusions of law and imposed the requested public reprimand. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Fulkerson, 2018 WI 42.
After an illness caused a woman to spend nearly one year in various hospitals and nursing care facilities, she and her husband hired Fulkerson to pursue coverage of medical expenses their insurer had deemed medically unnecessary and to address a potential malpractice claim. Fulkerson agreed to represent the couple on a contingent fee basis but failed to enter into a written fee agreement with the couple, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(c). She failed to hold in trust until disbursed the costs paid to her by the couple and instead deposited the funds into her personal account, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4) (current SCR 20:1.5(f)).
Fulkerson generally failed to acquire the legal knowledge necessary to represent the woman in a medical malpractice claim, including failing to make herself aware of the requirement that mediation be requested, in violation of SCR 20:1.1, and failed to diligently pursue the wife’s claim, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. Fulkerson failed to inform the couple that if they chose to have the woman’s lawsuit dismissed without prejudice they would have only a limited time to refile the claim, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(b).
Finally, Fulkerson violated SCR 20:1.16(d) in multiple ways, including the following: 1) after accepting employment she believed required her to withdraw from her representation of the woman, failing to inform the couple of that circumstance, and failing to formally withdraw until some two months after accepting the other employment; 2) failing to provide promised contact information for possible successor counsel; and 3) failing to inform the couple of the date by which the suit would have to be refiled.
Fulkerson was privately reprimanded in 2015.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against George W. Curtis Jr.
The supreme court suspended the law license of George W. Curtis Jr., Oshkosh, for four months effective March 29, 2018. The court also ordered Curtis to take certain actions with regard to his trust account and to pay $12,665.15 of the cost of the disciplinary proceedings and placed conditions on Curtis following reinstatement. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Curtis, 2018 WI 13.
At the end of a federal district court jury trial in January 2014, Curtis was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of willfully failing to pay income taxes, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7203. See United States v. Curtis, 1:13-cr-00113-WCG (E.D. Wis.). Curtis appealed, unsuccessfully. See United States v. Curtis, 781 F.3d 904 (7th Cir. 2015). Curtis’ criminal conduct violated SCR 20:8.4(b).
Since 1999, Curtis was the lawyer primarily responsible for managing his firm’s trust account, as well as for supervising the trust account-related work of the firm’s staff. It was Curtis’ practice to hold in the trust account any potentially disputed portions of settlement and judgment payments to the firm’s clients pending future resolution of the potential claims or the expiration of any applicable statute of limitation, rather than attempting to resolve the claims. Because Curtis failed to cause the firm to periodically review the trust account to ensure that funds were released appropriately, funds languished in the firm’s trust account for many years.
Efforts to identify and locate clients to whom these funds belonged proved difficult and, in some instances, required opening or reopening an estate. Clients could not be identified for some of the funds in trust. As a result, a substantial amount of money remained unpaid to its owners.
Curtis failed to ensure the prompt notice and delivery of funds to clients and third parties, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(b), in effect between Oct. 1, 2000, and June 30, 2004, and former SCR 20:1.15(d)(l), effective as of July 1, 2004.
Curtis failed to regularly reconcile his trust account in violation of SCR 20:1.15(f)(1)g. and failed to adequately supervise his staff's management of the trust account in violation of SCR 20:5.3(a) and (b), in effect between Oct. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2009, and SCR 20:5.3(a) and (b), in effect as of Jan. 1, 2010.
The court ordered Curtis to do the following: 1) distribute all funds in his trust account to their rightful owners; 2) if the rightful owners cannot be located, transfer those funds to the state treasurer’s office as unclaimed or unidentifiable property; and 3) provide documentation to the OLR that all funds in his trust account have been distributed.
The court also ordered that, upon reinstatement of his law license, Curtis’ trust account will be subject to monitoring by the OLR for three years or until further order.
Curtis had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Karene Marchan
On April 10, 2018, the supreme court suspended the law license of Karene Marchan, Oak Creek, for six months. The court further ordered that Marchan pay the $6,953.07 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. The court lifted a temporary suspension it imposed March 7, 2016, due to Marchan’s failure to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Marchan, 2018 WI 30.
Marchan represented a friend in a divorce, entering the case in July 2014. Predecessor counsel transferred more than $162,000 to Marchan to be held in trust.
A contested divorce hearing was conducted in the circuit court on Dec. 1, 2014, but was not concluded and was continued to March 10, 2015. After the Dec. 1, 2014, hearing, Marchan presented the client with a bill for more than $34,000 and told her it was negotiable. The day before the continued hearing date, Marchan moved for an adjournment due to illness. The hearing was reset for June 22, 2015. Before the June hearing date, Marchan moved to withdraw.
Between December 2014 and June 2015, Marchan failed to prepare for trial or otherwise act in the matter, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. Marchan’s failure to consult or communicate with the client in the same period violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(2) and (3). At the June 2015 hearing, the court allowed Marchan to withdraw and approved a reduced amount of $20,000 for her fees to be paid from funds held in trust. The client was late and was not present for the court’s consideration of Marchan’s motion.
Marchan noted on the record that she agreed to resolve her claim for further fees via arbitration. Marchan never filed for fee arbitration. Marchan left the hearing just as the client arrived but refused the client’s request to leave the file for the client’s use at trial. By failing to provide case materials to the client upon termination of representation, Marchan violated SCR 20:1.16(d).
The court determined the parties should divide their property equally. The court directed Marchan to disburse to the client the funds remaining in trust after the disbursement of $20,000 to herself for fees and $38,556.14 to the client’s ex-husband to equalize the marital estate. Marchan made the disbursements to herself and the client’s ex-husband but refused to disburse the remaining funds to the client. Marchan’s failure to disburse the client’s funds to her violated former SCR 20:1.15(d)(1). Marchan’s disregard of the order requiring her to do so violated SCR 20:3.4(c).
In addition, Marchan pursued an unreasonable fee, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(a), and made two cash withdrawals from her trust account, in violation of former SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)a. Marchan’s failure to cooperate with the investigation of the client’s grievance violated SCR 22.03(2) and 22.03(6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Marchan had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Brandon Buchanan
On April 19, 2018, the supreme court suspended the law license of Brandon Buchanan, Eau Claire, for 60 days, and ordered him to pay the $410.44 cost of the disciplinary proceeding, as well as $335 in restitution. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Buchanan, 2018 WI 41. The court also lifted a temporary suspension it imposed on April 10, 2017, in response to Buchanan’s failure to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation. Buchanan’s administrative suspensions relating to noncompliance with dues, CLE, and trust account certification requirements remain in effect until rectified.
In 2014, a woman filed for divorce from her spouse. In November 2015, the spouses hired Buchanan to represent them in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy action and paid him a $1,835 advanced fee, which included funds to pay the $335 bankruptcy filing fee. Buchanan did not deposit the clients’ payment into a trust account; indeed, he did not have a client trust account.
Buchanan failed to keep in regular contact with the clients. After he was hired, he did not respond to the clients’ requests for information for a number of months. In late February 2016, Buchanan communicated with the clients. In May 2016, he again stopped responding to the clients’ email and telephone requests for information. Buchanan performed some legal work in the matter, but never filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for the clients. In June 2016, the clients fired Buchanan and instructed him to deliver their file to successor counsel. Buchanan did not deliver the clients’ file to successor counsel, refund any unearned portion of their advanced fee, or provide them with an accounting.
Successor counsel and one spouse filed grievances with the OLR against Buchanan, who failed to respond to the OLR’s notices and requests for information. In February 2017, based on an OLR motion, the court ordered Buchanan to show cause why his license should not be suspended for failure to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation. Buchanan did not respond. On April 10, 2017, the court temporarily suspended Buchanan’s license.
Buchanan did not participate in the disciplinary action and was found in default.
Buchanan violated SCR 20:1.3; SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4); former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4); SCR 20:1.16(d); and SCR 22:03(2) and (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).
The court’s order of $335 in restitution to the couple represented the portion of funds designated for filing fees, which Buchanan neither earned nor expended for its intended purpose.
Buchanan had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Amie B. Trupke
On April 24, 2018, the supreme court suspended the law license of Amie Trupke, Oregon, for one year, effective June 5, 2018. Because the matter was resolved pursuant to a stipulation, the court did not assess any costs against Trupke. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Trupke, 2018 WI 43.
Trupke was a partner in a Madison law firm. In 2013, she began serving as an independent reviewer for the Center for Copyright Information, a service provided through the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Between January 2013 and June 2016, Trupke earned $73,025 for her work as a reviewer. Trupke did not report the $73,025 in fees to her firm or her partners. In one instance, she wrote off certain fees and directed that an invoice be sent to her home rather than her office. When the managing partner of her firm inquired about her work on behalf of the AAA, Trupke gave misleading information about the fees she earned. Trupke entered into a reimbursement arrangement with the firm and resigned.
Trupke’s conversion of fees belonging to the firm from 2013 through 2016 involved dishonest or deceitful conduct, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c). In addition, by converting fees owed to her law firm from 2013 through 2016, misrepresenting to the firm the amount of fees she had earned, and taking steps to ensure that fees owed to the firm were paid directly to her instead of the firm, Trupke breached her fiduciary duties owned to her firm and her duty of honesty in her professional dealings with the firm, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(f), which provides, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … (f) violate a … supreme court decision … regulating the conduct of lawyers …” as it relates to Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shea, 190 Wis. 2d 560, 527 N.W.2d 314 (1995).
Trupke had no prior discipline.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Barry S. Wagner
On April 17, 2018, the supreme court publicly reprimanded Barry S. Wagner, Scottsdale, Ariz., as discipline reciprocal to an Arizona Supreme Court order reprimanding Wagner. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Wagner, 2018 WI 36.
The Arizona reprimand resulted from Wagner’s failure to timely satisfy all lien holders in a personal injury settlement, then over-disbursing funds to the client from Wagner’s trust account. Wagner also deposited personal funds to make up for the resulting shortfalls in his trust account. The Arizona Supreme Court found that Wagner violated the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct by failing to safekeep property and by violating specific rules regarding trust account management. Wagner did not notify the OLR about the Arizona reprimand within 20 days after its effective date.
Wagner had no prior Wisconsin discipline.