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Format: MM/DD/YYYY
    November
    10
    2020

    Lawyer Discipline

    The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, provides discipline summaries for educational purposes.


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    Public Discipline

    The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, provides discipline summaries for educational purposes. Find the full text of this summary at www.wicourts.gov/olr.

    Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jean M. Robinson

    On Sept. 29, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended Jean M. Robinson’s Wisconsin law license for 18 months, effective June 3, 2019, as discipline reciprocal to an 18-month suspension imposed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Because Robinson entered into a stipulation under SCR 22.12, the court did not impose costs. Disciplinary Proc. Against Robinson, 2020 WI 76.

    Robinson obtained a corporate counsel certificate from the Virginia State Bar that allowed her to practice as in-house counsel for a company that is headquartered in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The misconduct leading to the District of Columbia suspension arose out of Robinson’s violation of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct for her intentionally prejudicing a client by revealing client confidences or secrets and acting with dishonesty by concealing from the client her assistance to governmental agents.

    Robinson received a one-year suspension of her Wisconsin license in 1987.

    Disciplinary Proceedings Against James T. Runyon

    On Sept. 9, 2020, the supreme court revoked the law license of James T. Runyon, Tomahawk. In addition, the court ordered that Runyon pay restitution to a trust from which he stole $135,785.42 and to the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection (the fund) for various claims paid due to Runyon’s dishonest conduct. Runyon was also ordered to pay the $1,080.34 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Runyon, 2020 WI 74.

    Runyon, already suspended for noncooperation when the disciplinary proceeding began, failed to participate. He was declared in default, and the allegations of the complaint were deemed admitted. Runyon’s misconduct consisted of 23 counts in four client matters.

    In the first matter, Runyon represented two brothers in the sale of property held by their late mother’s testamentary trust. Runyon received the proceeds from the sale, which he deposited in his client trust account. Runyon then used all the funds for his own benefit over the next six months, while misleading his clients about the status of the matter.

    In the second matter, Runyon was hired by the family of a minor who believed the minor might be facing criminal charges. Runyon accepted a $10,000 advanced fee but did not provide a written fee agreement. No charges were pursued, but Runyon failed to refund the advanced fee, which he had converted to his own use. The fund reimbursed the family.

    In the third matter, Runyon represented a woman in a small claims case against a bank for a flat fee of $500, which the woman paid in advance. Runyon received $1,788.30 from the bank in settlement of the claim. Runyon deposited the funds in his trust account but did not disburse them to the client, instead using most of the funds for his own benefit. The woman filed a grievance and pursued a small claims action against Runyon. Runyon did not cooperate with the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) investigation of the grievance and was suspended for that reason. The woman was granted a judgment against Runyon for the amount of the bank’s settlement minus the costs incurred by Runyon in pursuing the matter. The fund reimbursed the woman.

    In the fourth matter, Runyon undertook the representation of a woman in July 2018 to settle a debt she owed, even though Runyon was in the process of closing his law practice. Runyon accepted an advanced fee of $1,835 from the woman but did no work for her. Runyon never refunded the unearned fee. The fund reimbursed the woman. Runyon’s misconduct included eight counts of dishonesty in violation of SCR 20:8.4(c) and multiple violations of trust account rules and fee rules.

    Runyon has an extensive disciplinary history, including a one-year suspension in 1984, a private reprimand in 2006, a 60-day suspension in 2015, and a public reprimand in 2017.

    Disciplinary Proceedings Against Coral Dawn Pleas

    In a decision dated Sept. 29, 2020, the supreme court suspended the law license of Coral Dawn Pleas, Milwaukee, for six months, effective Nov. 10, 2020. The court also ordered Pleas to pay restitution of $8,333 to a third-party administrator. Because Pleas entered into a stipulation under SCR 22.12, the court did not impose costs. Disciplinary Proc. Against Pleas, 2020 WI 77.

    In 2014, Pleas represented a client in a personal injury claim arising out of an automobile accident. Pleas later represented the same client in a case arising out of a second automobile accident, which occurred in 2015. Pleas and the client signed contingent-fee agreements in both matters.

    In June 2015, Pleas settled the property damage and personal injury claims for the client’s first accident and deposited the $25,000 personal injury settlement check into her trust account. However, Pleas did not notify the client or the client’s medical providers that she had received the $25,000 insurance settlement.

     Pleas then transferred all the settlement proceeds from her trust account to her business account and withdrew all the funds for her personal use. Pleas accomplished these transactions via internet transfers. This resulted in Pleas overdrawing her client trust account. At the time, Pleas did not have an overdraft agreement with the OLR.

    From June 2015 through April 2018, Pleas failed to inform the client about the $25,000 settlement of the personal injury claim for the 2014 accident, notwithstanding repeated telephone calls from the client inquiring about the status of the case. Moreover, Pleas took no action on the client’s personal injury claim for the 2015 accident. The three-year statute of limitation expired on the second claim.

    Ultimately, Pleas reimbursed the client for the client’s share of the settlement in the first claim and waived Pleas’s attorney fees. In addition, Pleas negotiated a reduction of the client’s medical lien to $8,333. However, Pleas failed to pay that lien to the third-party administrator. 

    By mishandling and converting client and third-party funds, Pleas violated former SCR 20:1.15(d)(1), SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), former SCR 20:1.15(e)(4)c., former SCR 20:1.15(d)(2), and SCR 20:8.4(c). By failing to act diligently on the client’s behalf, failing to communicate with the client, and failing to file an overdraft agreement with the OLR, Pleas violated SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), and former SCR 20:1.15(h)(8).

    Pleas had no prior discipline.

    Disciplinary Proceedings Against Guy Norman Maras

    On Sept. 30, 2020, the supreme court suspended the Wisconsin law license of Guy Norman Maras, Chicago, for six months, as discipline reciprocal to that imposed by the Illinois Supreme Court on Jan. 17, 2020. Maras was further ordered to comply with all terms and conditions of the Illinois disciplinary order. Disciplinary Proc. Against Maras, 2020 WI 78.

    Maras was found to have violated Rule 8.4(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct as the result of his April 2019 conviction of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle in Oconto County, Wis., for which he pleaded guilty in February 2019. Maras drove while intoxicated in July 2018 and caused a single-vehicle crash that killed his passenger. Maras was sentenced to three years’ incarceration and 10 years’ extended supervision, both stayed, and was ordered to serve one year of jail time on work release, perform 80 hours’ community service, and complete 15 years’ probation.

    Maras had no prior discipline.


    Private Discipline

    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.

    Criminal Act Reflecting Adversely on Fitness to Practice

    Violation of SCR 20:8.4(b)

    An attorney was arrested after police conducted a welfare check on a woman who had called 911. Several days later, the woman provided a statement to police, and the attorney was charged with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct, with domestic abuse modifiers.

    Pursuant to a no-contest plea, the attorney was convicted of disorderly conduct. The battery charge was dismissed on the prosecutor’s motion. The court ordered the attorney to pay a fine and costs. Based on the parties’ stipulation, the court also ordered restitution in favor of the woman.

    By engaging in conduct leading to a conviction of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, with a domestic abuse modifier, the attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(b). The attorney had no prior discipline.

    Lack of Diligence and Communication; Failure to Cooperate

    Violations of SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a)(4), and SCR 22.03(2), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h)

    In 2017, an attorney agreed to represent a buyer of a home in a lawsuit against the seller, the listing agent, and the home inspector. The buyer alleged that the seller and the realtor prepared a false property-condition report that concealed material defects in the home and that the inspector negligently failed to discover the defects. The buyer paid an advanced fee of $2,500.

    The attorney performed initial work to investigate the case but did not discuss the matter with the client for several months and did not respond to client inquiries. The attorney thereafter drafted a complaint and met with the client to review it, approximately one year after the purchase. The client wanted additional allegations added to the complaint and was attempting to sell the property at that point. The attorney told the client that he would wait to hear from her before filing the complaint. The client attempted to contact the attorney by telephone and email to proceed with the filing of the complaint but received no response. After meeting with the client, the attorney took no action to advance the client’s claims, ascertain whether the client wished to modify her claims, or pursue evidence that might support such claims. The attorney returned a portion of the client’s fee. The attorney’s failure to act violated SCR 20:1.3. The attorney’s failure to respond to client inquiries violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(4).

    The attorney failed to timely respond to the client’s grievance, in violation of SCR 22.03(2), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

    Criminal Act Reflecting Adversely on Fitness to Practice

    Violation of SCR 20:8.4(b)

    An attorney was charged with misdemeanor counts of second-offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) and second-offense operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) based on the following event.

    Officers were advised of a possible drunk driver. The caller observed the vehicle park at, and its occupants enter, a bar. The caller provided a description of the driver.

    Officers then entered the bar and located the driver (the attorney). According to the officers, the attorney’s speech was slurred, his eyes were glassy, and he smelled of intoxicants when isolated from the bar interior and other patrons. Based on the witness statement and the observed indicia of intoxication, the officers arrested the attorney. The attorney provided a blood sample with a result of 0.164 g/100mL.

    Pursuant to a guilty plea, the attorney was convicted of second-offense OWI. The second-offense operating with PAC charge was dismissed but read in. The attorney’s sentence included 10 days in jail, driver’s license revocation for 13 months, and ignition-interlock-device installation for 13 months. The attorney also was ordered to undergo an alcohol or other drug abuse assessment and pay a fine and costs.

    By engaging in conduct resulting in the misdemeanor conviction of second-offense OWI, the attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(b).

    The attorney had a prior private reprimand and public reprimand, neither of which involved an OWI conviction.

    Criminal Act Reflecting Adversely on Fitness to Practice

    Violation of SCR 20:8.4(b)

    An attorney was charged with second-offense OWI, based on the following incident.

    A deputy was dispatched in response to a 911 call from a citizen witness regarding a drunk driver and located and stopped the vehicle. Upon arrival, the deputy made contact with the attorney. The deputy reported an odor of alcohol beverages while interacting with the attorney, who also had glassy and bloodshot eyes. The attorney performed field-sobriety tests poorly, and the deputy arrested the attorney.

    The attorney submitted to an evidentiary chemical blood test, with results of 0.04 g/100mL of ethanol and detectable amounts of THC. An amended complaint was filed, adding one count of second-offense operating with a restricted controlled substance.

    Pursuant to a guilty plea, the attorney was convicted of second-offense operating with a restricted controlled substance. The second-offense OWI charge was dismissed on the prosecutor’s motion. The attorney’s sentence included 21 days in jail, driver’s license revocation for 14 months, and ignition-interlock-device installation for 14 months. The attorney was also ordered to undergo an alcohol assessment, submit a DNA sample, and pay a fine and costs.

    By engaging in conduct leading to a misdemeanor conviction of second-offense operating with a restricted controlled substance, the attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(b). The attorney has no prior discipline.

    Contact with Represented Party; Attempted Representation in Violation of Conflict of Interest Rules; Failure to Abide by Court Ruling

    Violations of SCR 20:4.2, SCR 20:8.4(a), and SCR 20:3.4(c)

    An attorney attempted to represent a minor who was the subject of a petition for protective services while also representing the child’s grandparents. The grandparents had sought to have the child placed with them, but were deemed unsuitable as a placement option.

    The minor was represented by advocacy counsel appointed by the State Public Defender (SPD). The attorney asked the minor’s counsel to sign a substitution of counsel. The minor’s counsel refused and instructed the attorney not to contact the minor. The attorney engaged in an unauthorized contact with the minor and then filed a motion with the court requesting to represent the minor. The court denied the attorney’s request on the basis that the proposed representation presented a conflict of interest.

    After the court’s ruling, the attorney contacted the minor again without permission from the minor’s counsel and obtained the minor’s signature on a document waiving the conflict, which the attorney filed with the court. In the meantime, at the minor’s request, the SPD appointed new counsel for the minor. The attorney thereafter took no further action to represent the minor.

    The attorney violated SCR 20:4.2 by twice contacting the minor whom the lawyer knew was represented by counsel without the consent of the minor’s lawyer. By attempting to represent the minor when the representation presented an unwaivable conflict of interest under SCR 20:1.7(a)(2), the attorney violated SCR 20:8.4(a), which prohibits attempted violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. By continuing to seek to represent the minor after the court prohibited the representation, the attorney violated SCR 20:3.4(c). The attorney had no prior discipline.

    Incompetence; Failure to Supervise Nonlawyer Staff in a Disability Matter

    Violations of SCR 20:1.1 and SCR 20:5.3(a) and (b)

    A woman hired an attorney to represent her in an appeal from a decision denying her application for Social Security disability income (SSDI) benefits. The client had 60 days to file an appeal. The attorney undertook a review of the woman’s matter without knowledge of her appeal rights or the applicable appeal deadline and failed to take steps to acquire that knowledge, in violation of SCR 20:1.1. As a result, the 60-day deadline to file an appeal passed without an appeal being filed and without the filing of a request for an extension of time to do so. Absent a timely appeal, the client would be required to commence the SSDI application process anew.

    The attorney also failed to have in place a system whereby telephonic inquiries from the client regarding case status were noted and addressed, in violation of SCR 20:5.3(a) and (b). Consequently, the client’s numerous phone calls to the attorney’s office were not returned.

    The attorney had no prior discipline.

    Failure to Hold Client Funds in Trust; Conflict of Interest – Prohibited Transactions

    Violations of SCR 20:1.15(b)(1) and SCR 20:1.8(a)

    An attorney represented a client in the drafting of the client’s will. Before the client’s death, the attorney had opened a checking account, in the attorney’s name only, with funds belonging to the client. The account later became a joint account with the client. Upon the client’s death, ownership of the client’s funds in the joint checking account passed to the attorney.

    After the client’s death, the client’s sister filed an Objection to the Validity of the Will and a Demand for Formal Proceedings. The court appointed a special administrator of the estate. The attorney reported the checking account and delivered the funds to the special administrator. The special administrator listed the checking account as an estate asset and included the funds in the estate.

    By placing the client’s funds in a checking account first titled in the attorney’s name only and later as a joint account with the client, and thereby failing to hold the client’s funds in trust, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1).

    By having a joint checking account that held the client’s funds and resulted in the attorney’s ownership of the funds upon the client’s death, the attorney violated SCR 20:1.8(a).

    The attorney had no prior discipline.




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