The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin
Supreme Court, provides these summaries for educational
purposes. The OLR assists the court in supervising the practice
of law and protecting the public from misconduct by lawyers.
Find the full text of these summaries at www.wicourts.gov/olr.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cole J. White
On Aug. 23, 2019, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the law license of Cole J. White, Green Bay, for 15 months, commencing Oct. 4, 2019. In addition, the court ordered that White pay the $17,105.44 cost of the disciplinary proceeding as well as restitution to two clients, totaling $14,430. Disciplinary Proceedings Against White, 2019 WI 86.
The suspension addressed 27 counts of misconduct, including many instances of dishonest conduct, committed by White in four client matters. In the first matter, White filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Neenah and several other defendants, including a circuit court judge. White did little work to advance the case and failed to respond to the defendants’ discovery requests. The defendants sought dismissal of the suit. In responding to the dismissal motions, White submitted false statements to the court. The court granted dismissal and sanctioned White $1,500. White misled his clients about the status of the case, and he fabricated evidence and made false statements in responses to the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR).
In the second case, a man hired White to pursue modification of a custody and placement order. White charged the man a flat fee of $11,000, despite his lack of experience handling such matters. White filed a “fill in the blank” motion that was denied because it did not address the issues noted in the custody order that the client sought to change. The man also hired White to pursue a defamation action against his ex-wife and paid him $2,700 for that case. White did not pursue the defamation case, and the client later terminated White’s representation in both matters. The client requested a refund and the return of his file. White refunded only $270 and did not return the client’s file.
In the third matter, a woman hired White to represent her in a dispute over past-due rent claimed by the former landlord for commercial property she operated. The woman paid White a $1,000 advanced fee, which he did not hold in trust. White misled the woman to believe that he was working to settle the dispute and falsely claimed that he had contacted the landlord’s counsel. When the landlord filed suit, White agreed to file an answer on the woman’s behalf but never did so, resulting in a default judgment against her.
In the final matter, White agreed to pursue a Social Security disability claim for a man and accepted an advanced fee of $1,500. White did no work in the matter, though he led the man to believe that he had filed a claim on his behalf. When the man discovered that no claim had been filed, White falsely claimed to have referred the case to a lawyer not affiliated with White’s firm. The man filed the claim on his own and requested that his unearned fee be returned. White falsely claimed that he mailed the client a refund check. White did not refund the unearned fee for another six months.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks
On Sept. 24, 2019, the supreme court suspended Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks’ Wisconsin law license for 120 days as discipline reciprocal to an indefinite suspension of not less than 120 days, including conditions and one-year’s probation, by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Eichhorn-Hicks violated SCR 22.22(1) by failing to notify the OLR of the Minnesota suspension. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Eichhorn-Hicks, 2019 WI 91.
The misconduct leading to the Minnesota license suspension arose out of Eichhorn-Hicks’ failure to state in a written fee agreement that the fee could be subject to a refund under certain circumstances, in violation of Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.5(b); his failure to communicate a plea agreement to a client in a criminal matter, in violation of MRPC 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, and 1.4(a)(1)-(3); and his signing of a client’s name on a medical records release form, falsely claiming to have witnessed the client’s signature on that form and presenting the signed medical release form to a third party, in violation of MRPC 8.4(c)-(d).
Eichhorn-Hicks’ Wisconsin disciplinary history consists of a one-year suspension and public reprimand imposed in 2012 as discipline reciprocal to two matters in which he was disciplined by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Discplinary Proceedings Against Gordon C. Ring
On Aug. 23, 2019, the supreme court suspended the Wisconsin law license of Gordon C. Ring, Rockford, Ill., for two years, as discipline reciprocal to a two-year suspension of Ring’s Illinois law license by the Illinois Supreme Court, effective Oct. 11, 2018. Ring also violated SCR 22.22(1) by failing to notify the OLR of the Illinois suspension. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ring, 2019 WI 87.
The misconduct leading to the Illinois license suspension arose out of Ring’s misappropriation of more than $124,000 in two client matters, in violation of Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (IRPC) 8.4(c); failing to work on a case after the filing of the complaint in a third matter, which led to the case being dismissed, in violation of IRPC 1.3, 3.2, and 8.4(d); failing to inform a client that the client’s case had been dismissed, in violation of IRPC 1.4(a)(3); and using funds in his client trust account belonging to others to pay $10,000 to a client to resolve the client’s matter, in violation of IRPC 1.15(a).
Ring’s Wisconsin law license was suspended for six months in 1992 as discipline reciprocal to that imposed by the Illinois Supreme Court and remains suspended.
Public Reprimand of Michael R. Haas
The OLR and Michael R. Haas, Cedarburg, entered into an agreement for the 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 Sept. 25, 2019, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3). The reprimand is based on Haas’ misconduct in one client matter.
A woman hired Haas to represent her in efforts to dissolve a partnership agreement between the woman’s deceased husband and his former business partner. Attempts to negotiate a buyout of the client’s interest were not successful. Eventually, Haas drafted a petition for the appointment of a receiver and dissolution of the partnership.
The next month, Haas told the client’s son-in-law that he (Haas) had filed the petition, but Haas had not done so. Over the next five months, Haas made several misrepresentations to the client and the client’s son-in-law, including falsely claiming that two hearings on the matter had been held and that certain orders had issued from those hearings. At one point, Haas produced a fabricated court order in furtherance of his various misrepresentations. After having problems reaching Haas, the client’s son-in-law contacted the court directly and learned that no lawsuit had been filed on Haas’ client’s behalf. The son-in-law left Haas a message that evening stating that he would meet Haas at Haas’ office the next morning.
The next morning, Haas called the client’s son-in-law and told him the meeting would need to be rescheduled. When Haas did not call back to suggest a different time, the son-in-law went to Haas’ firm. When confronted, Haas falsely told the son-in-law that he had filed the lawsuit but had not timely effectuated service. Haas further stated that he had tried to negotiate a settlement with the defendant but had not been able to do so and, therefore, had been trying to refile the lawsuit without the client’s or her son-in-law’s knowledge. Although it is unknown if Haas tried to negotiate a settlement, it is known that he had never filed the lawsuit.
Eventually, the client fired Haas and hired new counsel.
By failing to advance the client’s efforts to dissolve her deceased husband’s partnership, Haas violated SCR 20:1.3.
By failing to provide the client with accurate case status information, Haas violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
By making misrepresentations to the client and her son-in-law regarding case status, and by producing a fabricated draft court order in furtherance of his misrepresentations, Haas violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
Additionally, Haas failed to provide to the OLR a response to the client’s grievance until being personally served with a third request that he do so, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) and 22.03(6), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Haas has no prior discipline.
Reinstatement Proceedings of Christopher A. Mutschler
On Sept. 25, 2019, the supreme court denied Christopher A. Mutschler’s petition for reinstatement of his Wisconsin law license and ordered him to pay the full $4,577.90 cost of the reinstatement proceeding. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Mutschler, 2019 WI 92.
On July 14, 2011, the court granted Mutschler’s petition for consensual license revocation. Disciplinary Proceedings Against Mutschler, 2011 WI 74, 336 Wis. 2d 241, 804 N.W.2d 680. At the time of the revocation, 59 grievances were pending against Mutschler. Nearly all followed a similar pattern. Mutschler would obtain payment of an advanced fee, often a flat fee, to represent a client in a traffic, operating while intoxicated (OWI), or criminal case. In OWI and traffic cases, Mutschler would frequently advise the client to enter a no-contest plea and promise that he would win the case on appeal. In some cases, Mutschler would never notify the client of the scheduled hearing on the pending charge or citation, so the client would fail to appear.
On Nov. 10, 2017, Mutschler filed a petition for reinstatement. On Aug. 13, 2018, a supreme court-appointed referee issued a report recommending the court deny Mutschler’s petition. Mutschler appealed.
The supreme court stated, “The referee focused on the most significant challenge facing Attorney Mutschler’s reinstatement petition: his undisputed failure to make any restitution to clients aggrieved by his misconduct.” Disciplinary Proceedings Against Mutschler, 2019 WI 92, ¶ 12. Mutschler owes $246,723 in restitution. Mutschler attributed his failure to make any restitution payments to his inability to pay.
The court stated, “What stands out is the undisputed fact that in the nearly seven years between the time his license was revoked and his reinstatement petition, Attorney Mutschler never made any contact with the [Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection] or his former clients to make any arrangements for repayment of any part of his restitution obligation.” Id. ¶ 19.
The court concluded, “Attorney Mutschler’s failure to satisfy this prerequisite regarding restitution precludes his reinstatement.” Id. ¶ 21.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court permits the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) to publish, for educational purposes, a summary of facts and professional conduct rule violations in matters in which the OLR imposed private reprimands. The summaries do not disclose information identifying the reprimanded attorneys. The summaries of selected private reprimands are printed to help attorneys avoid similar misconduct problems.
Practice While Suspended; Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit or Misrepresentation
Violations of SCR 31.10(1), SCR 22.26(2), SCR 23.02(1), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f), and SCR 20:8.4(c)
As of the close of business on June 2, 2014, a lawyer’s Wisconsin law license was suspended for the lawyer’s failure to comply with mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) reporting requirements. The lawyer’s license was reinstated on July 28, 2014. Between his suspension on June 2, 2014, and his reinstatement on July 28, 2014, the lawyer practiced law in Wisconsin by appearing on behalf of a client in a Milwaukee Municipal Court case, appearing on behalf of a client in a Milwaukee County Circuit Court case, signing and filing an order in a New Berlin Municipal Court case, and being hired by and providing a woman with legal advice regarding her nephew’s probation revocation case in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.
On July 25, 2014, the lawyer filed a petition for reinstatement with the Board of Bar Examiners. In his petition, the lawyer asserted that he had included all instances of his practice of law during his period of ineligibility, when he had not.
By practicing law in Wisconsin when his law license was suspended for noncompliance with CLE requirements, the lawyer violated SCR 31.10(1), SCR 22.26(2), and SCR 23.02(1), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f). By asserting in his signed and sworn petition for reinstatement that he had included in the petition all instances of his practice of law during his period of ineligibility, when he had not, the lawyer violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate
Violations of SCR 20:1.3 and SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4)
In March 2015, the State Public Defender (SPD) appointed a lawyer to represent a client in postconviction proceedings. The lawyer filed multiple motions to enlarge the time for filing a postconviction motion or a notice of appeal, all of which were granted.
In August 2016, the lawyer filed a motion for postconviction relief in the circuit court, which the court denied. The lawyer then filed a notice of appeal and a few months later filed a motion to enlarge the time for filing his brief. The court granted the motion and extended the deadline. The lawyer failed to file a brief in a timely fashion and did not request any additional extensions. Accordingly, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal.
During this time, the client sought information from the lawyer about the appeal. After receiving no response from the lawyer, the client contacted the SPD inquiring about the status of his appeal. SPD counsel attempted to reach the lawyer by email and voicemail for several months – also without response. The lawyer later sent the client a letter and an affidavit admitting that he had failed to timely pursue the appeal or respond to the client’s inquiries.
In January 2019, the court of appeals vacated its prior order dismissing the appeal and reinstated the client’s direct appeal rights.
By failing to take meaningful action on the client’s appeal, resulting in its dismissal, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3. By failing to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of his appeal, and, in addition, by failing to comply with the client’s requests for information regarding his appeal, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and SCR 20:1.4(a)(4).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Conduct Involving Dishonesty; False Testimony to a Court
Violations of SCR 20:8.4(c) and SCR 20:3.3(a)(1)
A lawyer who had engaged in an extramarital affair later sought police intervention to block the other person’s continued contact. The lawyer, however, misled the police about the nature of the prior relationship, creating the misimpression that the person was merely an acquaintance. The lawyer’s statements to police officers violated SCR 20:8.4(c), which states, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
The lawyer also sought a restraining order. In testimony in support of the issuance of the restraining order, the lawyer testified falsely about the timing and nature of the relationship. The testimony therefore violated SCR 20:3.3(a)(1), which states, “A lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal….” The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Violations of SCR 20:1.1 and SCR 20:1.4(b)
A woman and her husband signed an addendum to a land contract by which they and their company became joint and several guarantors of a loan. The vendors deeded a portion of the property (hereinafter the adjacent parcel) without encumbrance to the spouses’ company in exchange for executing the guaranty and a $20,000 payment.
The lawyer later represented the woman in her divorce.
The lawyer repeatedly confirmed to the client that, as part of the divorce action, the lawyer would have the land contract rewritten and secure a hold harmless agreement. The woman therefore believed if she surrendered the adjacent parcel to her husband, she would be relieved of the guarantee on the land contract debt.
The judge informed the lawyer that the court did not have jurisdiction to order rewriting of the land contract. In the final divorce judgment, the woman received the couple’s business and the husband received the adjacent parcel.
While the divorce was pending, the land purchasers defaulted. The vendors commenced a foreclosure action. A default judgment of more than $200,000 was entered against the woman. The lawyer failed to include the land contract liability in the couple’s property-division calculations.
By failing to use the requisite knowledge to ascertain the limits of the divorce proceeding as a means of altering land contract terms, or to seek proper concessions from the adverse party in light of the client’s continuing exposure to land contract liability, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.1.
By providing information to the client that caused the client to believe that her exposure to land contract liability would be extinguished in the context of the divorce action, thereby depriving the client of the ability to make informed decisions regarding the representation, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.4(b).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Failure to Protect a Client’s Interests on Termination of Representation
Violation of SCR 20:1.16(d)
A woman hired a lawyer to represent her in a personal-injury case after she had a slip-and-fall accident at a store and signed a contingent-fee agreement for the representation.
Within the first few months of the representation, the lawyer investigated the woman’s claim, reviewed medical records, conducted legal research on slip-and-fall cases, and analyzed the viability of the woman’s claim. The lawyer concluded the woman’s case lacked merit and he would not be able to establish liability on the part of the store and any damages would be nominal, such that the claim could not be justified. Upon concluding that he could not justify pursuit of the woman’s claim, the lawyer’s representation was effectively terminated.
The lawyer failed to promptly inform the woman of his conclusion that she did not have a meritorious claim. By the time the lawyer notified the woman of his conclusion regarding the viability of the case, the woman’s claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitation. The lawyer’s delay in that regard was mitigated by his reasonable conclusion that the woman did not have a meritorious claim.
Upon closure of his file on the woman’s potential claim, by failing to promptly inform the woman of his conclusions regarding the viability of the case and to return case file materials to the woman, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.16(d).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.