Public Reprimand of John Schellpfeffer
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and John Schellpfeffer, Merrill, entered into an agreement for imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1). A referee appointed by the supreme court thereafter approved the agreement, and issued the public reprimand on May 7, 2018, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
From March 2016 until December 2016, Schellpfeffer represented a client in multiple matters, including divorce proceedings, a paternity case, and two child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) cases.
Schellpfeffer prepared a “flat-fee” fee agreement for the client stating that the fees were not “refundable for any reason.” Schellpfeffer did not prepare any of the notices required pursuant to former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m).
Soon after the representation began, Schellpfeffer began sending sexually charged messages and memes to the client through his phone and Facebook messaging. For instance, Schellpfeffer told the client that he was available, “sooo … I’m going to be looking for fun. Was wondering the same of you.” Schellpfeffer followed up this comment with the following joke: “What did the Easter egg say to the boiling water? It’s gonna take a while to get me hard. I just got laid by some chick.” Schellpfeffer noted in another message that he has a new love in his life (referring to his motorcycle), that her name was “Harley,” and that she likes to be “ridden hard.” In one message seeking to arrange a meeting with the client, Schellpfeffer stated that she “should meet him at five” for an appointment and that “wanna see you when you’re all dolled up ….” In another message in which Schellpfeffer was trying to arrange an appointment, he said to the client, “Wear something sexy tho.” At one point, Schellpfeffer invited the client to meet him for drinks, even though the client was ordered by a court not to consume alcohol.
By failing to hold advanced fees in trust until earned, with no evidence that he intended to use the alternative protection for advanced fees provisions of former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4m), Schellpfeffer violated former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4), effective through June 30, 2016, the requirements of which are now stated in SCR 20:1.5(f).
By sending sexually suggestive and flirtatious messages to the client, and then failing to withdraw from the representation, Schellpfeffer violated SCR 20:1.7(a) and SCR 20:1.16(a)(1). Schellpfeffer’s conduct also violated SCR 20:8.4(f), which provides, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … (f) violate a statute, supreme court rule, supreme court order, or supreme court decision regulating the conduct of lawyers …” as it relates to Disciplinary Proceedings against Gibson, 124 Wis. 2d 466, 369 N.W. 2d 695 (1985). Moreover, Schellpfeffer’s sexually charged messages harassed the client on the basis of her sex, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(i), and, in addition, constituted offensive conduct, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(g) and SCR 40.15.
Schellpfeffer had one prior private reprimand, imposed in 2003.