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.
Public Reprimand of Crystal L. Saltzwadel
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Crystal L. Saltzwadel, Oak Creek, entered into an agreement for 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 Feb.27, 2020, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
The public reprimand covered six matters, each arising from Saltzwadel’s appointed representation of clients in criminal defense matters.
In each matter, Saltzwadel willfully failed to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation, in violation of SCR 22.03(2) or (6), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Three matters involved underlying misconduct as well. In one matter, Saltzwadel also violated the diligence requirement stated in SCR 20:1.3 and the communication requirements stated in SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4). In another matter, in addition to her failure to cooperate with the OLR, Saltzwadel violated SCR 20:1.3 and SCR 20:1.4(a)(3). In another matter, in addition to the failure to cooperate, Saltzwadel violated the communication requirements stated in SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4).
Saltzwadel had no prior discipline.
PRIVATE REPRIMAND SUMMARIES
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.
Failure to Keep Client Reasonably Informed; Disobeying Court Order; Lack of Diligence
Violations of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), SCR 20:3.4(c), and SCR 20:1.3
A lawyer represented a client in divorce proceedings.
The lawyer arranged for an unaffiliated lawyer to appear with the client at a pretrial conference and failed to inform the client before the conference of his anticipated absence. The lawyer arranged for a different unaffiliated lawyer to appear with the client at the adjourned pretrial conference and again failed to inform the client of his anticipated absence.
In both instances, the lawyer was unavailable because he was appearing on behalf of other clients in other matters. At the adjourned pretrial conference, the court ordered the lawyer to appear personally at all future court proceedings and ordered each party to file witness and exhibit lists by the final pretrial hearing.
The lawyer arranged for an affiliated lawyer to appear with the client at the final pretrial hearing and again failed to inform the client of his anticipated absence. The lawyer again was unavailable because he was appearing elsewhere with another client. The lawyer also failed to file the client’s witness and exhibit lists by the final pretrial hearing. As a sanction for the noncompliance, the court prohibited the client from filing any exhibits and from having any witnesses testify.
By failing to provide the client advance notice of his inability to attend court proceedings, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3). By sending another lawyer to appear in his place at the final pretrial hearing, contrary to the court’s prior order that he appear personally at all court proceedings, the lawyer violated SCR 20:3.4(c). By failing to file witness and exhibit lists by the time of the final pretrial hearing, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3.
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate; Misrepresentation in a Civil Matter
Violations of SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), and SCR 20:8.4(c)
A lawyer agreed to assist people who lived near him in appealing their insurance company’s denial of coverage for a medical procedure for their son. The lawyer failed to take any meaningful steps to advance the appeal, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. The lawyer also failed to provide the family with accurate case-status updates, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
Finally, the lawyer violated SCR 20:8.4(c) when he made multiple misrepresentations to the family to conceal the fact that he had not timely filed an appeal on their behalf, including telling the family that the appeal had been denied, that an arbitrator had later ruled in their favor, and that the lawyer’s firm was providing the money needed for the procedure, when in fact the lawyer provided the money himself.
The misconduct continued over 16 months and ceased only when the family, unable to reach the lawyer, hired new counsel to look into the matter.
In mitigation, the lawyer had no prior discipline, cooperated in the investigation of the matter, expressed remorse for his misconduct, and reimbursed the family for their legal fees. Additionally, the lawyer and his law firm paid a settlement to the family. The lawyer also had personal, mental-health, and substance-abuse issues.
Failure to Maintain Neutrality; Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation
Violations of SCR 20:2.4(c) and SCR 20:8.4(c)
A lawyer was hired by a married couple to mediate a legal separation. By the end of the mediation session, the parties had completed all required forms and had reached a tentative agreement on the issues of their legal separation, including child custody and placement and property and debt division. The forms were sent electronically to both parties for review for accuracy and editing.
After the mediation session, in an email sent to the wife, the lawyer did not maintain the lawyer’s neutrality, gave legal advice on various issues, and advocated for the wife in the mediation process. In the email, the lawyer also provided a proposed email that the lawyer planned to have the wife surreptitiously use as her own in replying to a prior email from the lawyer during the mediation process. The lawyer sought to conceal the lawyer’s conduct from the husband and did not expect that the husband would see the email to the wife.
By giving legal advice to and advocating on behalf of the wife, failing to maintain neutrality throughout the mediation process, and failing to obtain informed consent, confirmed in a writing signed by the parties to the mediation, the lawyer violated SCR 20:2.4(c).
By seeking to conceal from the husband that the lawyer was giving legal advice to and advocating on behalf of the wife, and by devising a scheme to deceive and mislead the husband concerning the proposed email the lawyer provided to the wife, the lawyer violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Failure to Consult with Client; Lack of Diligence
Violations of SCR 20:1.4(a)(2) and SCR 20:1.3
The lawyer represented a client in the client’s capacity as personal representative of an estate. The lawyer failed to advise or instruct the client to open a separate estate account so as to use estate funds for payment of estate expenses and failed to otherwise advise the client or instruct the client not to pay estate expenses out of the client’s personal funds. The client consequently paid a substantial amount of estate expenses out of personal funds. The lawyer also filed on the estate’s behalf a general inventory that included property belonging not to the decedent but to the client. The lawyer’s failure to consult with the client regarding the establishment of an estate account violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(2). The lawyer’s failure to take steps to ensure the filing of an accurate estate inventory violated SCR 20:1.3.
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Scope of Representation; Communication; Prompt Notice and Delivery of Funds; Accounting
Violations of SCR 20:1.2(a) and (a)(2) and SCR 20:1.15(e)(1) and (2)
A lawyer represented a client in a personal-injury matter. In February 2018, the client signed a settlement statement showing the lawyer’s firm would hold $3,895 in trust related to a chiropractor’s outstanding bill. The client did not dispute he owed the chiropractor at least $3,895, but he accepted the lawyer’s offer to attempt to negotiate a reduction.
Between mid-February 2018 and May 1, 2019, the chiropractor’s office attempted to collect or negotiate a settlement of the debt. Staff members of the chiropractor contacted the lawyer’s office numerous times, and the chiropractor sent two letters offering to settle the debt. The client also contacted the lawyer several times requesting the debt be paid in full. Instead, the lawyer sent a partial payment marked “Payment in Full.” The chiropractor’s office deposited the check but disputed it had agreed to settle the debt. When the lawyer consulted the client in August 2019, the client instructed the lawyer to pay the debt in full.
By failing to consult with the client regarding five settlement offers made by the chiropractor’s office, to consult with the client regarding payment of the debt, and to abide by the client’s directions regarding payment of the debt, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.2(a) and SCR 20:1.4(a)(2).
By failing to give prompt written notice to the chiropractor’s office of his firm’s receipt of funds in which the chiropractor’s office had an interest, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(1).
By failing to provide the chiropractor’s office with a written accounting of the funds in which the chiropractor’s office had an interest, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(2).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Lack of Diligence; Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation
Violations of SCR 20:1.3 and SCR 20:8.4(c)
A lawyer began representing a client in a small claims court case. The court eventually ordered a default judgment in favor of the client.
More than two years later, the client filed an earnings garnishment notice without a lawyer’s assistance. Thereafter, the client filed a motion for judgment against the garnishee, also without a lawyer’s assistance. After two scheduled hearings and no answer filed, the court ordered garnishment against the garnishee defendant. A motion to reopen and vacate judgment was filed, and the court denied the motion. Ultimately, the court entered a judgment and notice of entry of judgment.
The lawyer signed and filed with the clerk of circuit court a creditor’s claim on behalf of the client. However, the lawyer changed the caption of the judgment when the lawyer drafted the creditor’s claim to state that the debtor was also known as (a/k/a) a different named entity and thereafter the lawyer filed the creditor’s claim with the false caption with the court.
In an order on motion to vacate judgment, the court found the original judgment was not enforceable against the a/k/a named entity and vacated the judgment. The lawyer filed a motion for reconsideration, which the court denied. Thereafter, the lawyer filed a notice of appeal. In its decision, the court of appeals stated that the lawyer’s notice of appeal was untimely.
By failing to timely file a notice of appeal of the court’s order, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3.
By knowingly changing the caption of the judgment when the lawyer drafted the creditor’s claim and thereafter by filing the creditor’s claim with the false caption with the court, the lawyer violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
The lawyer had a prior private reprimand.
Failure to Continue Representation
Violation of SCR 20:1.16(c)
A lawyer was appointed to represent a man in two criminal cases and in pending probation-revocation proceedings. When the lawyer believed that he could no longer represent the client, the lawyer sent the client, for the client’s signature, a completed request for a new lawyer. The client did not sign and return the document to the lawyer; instead, he faxed it to the Division of Hearings and Appeals requesting that his upcoming revocation hearing be adjourned and rescheduled as a status conference because the lawyer intended to withdraw.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) notified the lawyer that she was denying the client’s adjournment request. The lawyer then properly withdrew from the client’s criminal cases but failed to request to withdraw from the client’s probation-revocation proceedings.
Upon receipt of follow-up correspondence from the client and less than one week before the revocation hearing, the ALJ notified the lawyer that she expected his appearance at the revocation hearing because he still was the client’s appointed attorney. The lawyer then failed to represent the client at the revocation hearing, in violation of SCR 20:1.16(c).
The lawyer had one prior private reprimand for unrelated misconduct.
Lack of Diligence; Communication; Failure to Draft Order
Violations of SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a)(3), and SCR 20:3.4(c)
A lawyer represented a client in custody and placement matters, appearing on the client’s behalf for a scheduling conference that was conducted by telephone. The matter was scheduled for another hearing in two months. The lawyer later failed to notify the guardian ad litem (GAL), the other parent’s lawyer, and the visitation supervisor as to the client’s visitation intentions and failed to prepare the order from the scheduling conference as directed by the court.
At a hearing convened by the court to obtain an update on psychological evaluations and to schedule the case for trial or pretrial motions, the lawyer stated he had had some contact with the client after the scheduling conference but had not notified the client of the court date. The lawyer informed the court that for some reason, he was unable to act in this case. The lawyer admitted he had not been communicative with the GAL, opposing counsel, or the client and accepted responsibility for that.
The other parent’s lawyer opposed continuation of the proceedings. The court made a temporary order suspending the client’s periods of placement and awarding sole custody to the other parent. The client was required to meet certain conditions to resume the litigation.
The court granted the lawyer’s request to withdraw two months later, and the lawyer’s firm fully refunded all fees the client paid.
By failing to take action in the case between the scheduling conference and a hearing two months later, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3.
By failing to notify the client of the court date or otherwise keep the client informed of case developments, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
By failing to prepare the order from the scheduling conference per the court’s order, the lawyer violated SCR 20:3.4(c).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Criminal Act Reflecting Adversely on Fitness to Practice
Violations of SCR 20:8.4(b)
A lawyer was charged with third-offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) and third-offense operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration after being involved in a one-car accident. At a hospital, once medically cleared, the lawyer performed field sobriety tests unsatisfactorily and was arrested for OWI.
Pursuant to a no-contest plea, the lawyer was convicted of third-offense OWI. The lawyer’s sentence included five months in jail with Huber privileges, driver’s license revocation for 30 months, and ignition-interlock-device installation for 24 months. The lawyer also was ordered to undergo an alcohol assessment and pay a fine and costs. By engaging in conduct leading to a misdemeanor conviction of third-offense OWI, the lawyer violated SCR 20:8.4(b).
Several years later, the lawyer was charged with battery and disorderly conduct after a reported dispute with a family member. Thereafter, the court granted the victim’s petition for a domestic abuse temporary restraining order.
The lawyer pleaded guilty to the battery charge. The court then withheld adjudication and referred the lawyer to the deferred-prosecution program.
Several months later, the victim contacted a law enforcement agency to report a violation of the injunction. As a result, the lawyer was charged with knowingly violating a domestic abuse order and bail jumping. (Thereafter, the lawyer’s deferred-prosecution-agreement contract was revoked.) Pursuant to a guilty plea, the lawyer was convicted of misdemeanor knowingly violating a domestic abuse injunction, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(b).
The lawyer also was convicted of misdemeanor battery. The lawyer was sentenced to serve five months in jail with Huber privileges. By engaging in conduct leading to a conviction of misdemeanor battery, the lawyer violated SCR 20:8.4(b).
The lawyer, who does not actively practice law, had no prior discipline.