The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, provides discipline summaries for educational purposes. Find the full text of these summaries at www.wicourts.gov/olr.
Public Reprimand of Jay Kronenwetter
The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Jay Kronenwetter, Wausau, entered into an agreement for the 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 March 11, 2021, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
Kronenwetter was charged with felony counts of fourth-offense operating while intoxicated (OWI) and fourth-offense operating with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) in Vilas County Circuit Court. Kronenwetter pleaded guilty to the fourth-offense OWI charge. The fourth-offense operating with PAC charge was dismissed on the prosecutor’s motion.
The circuit court withheld sentence and placed Kronenwetter on 24 months’ probation. Conditions of probation included 135 days in jail (with good time and Huber law privileges), submission to a substance-use assessment and follow through with any treatment or counseling, maintaining absolute sobriety, and submission of a DNA sample. The sentence included lifetime revocation of Kronenwetter’s driver’s license and ignition interlock device installation for three years. He was also ordered to pay a fine and costs.
By engaging in conduct leading to a felony conviction of fourth-offense OWI, Kronenwetter violated SCR 20:8.4(b), which states, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to … commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”
In November 2014, Kronenwetter was privately reprimanded for violating SCR 20:8.4(b), regarding a third-offense OWI conviction.
Reinstatement of Scott E. Selmer
On March 3, 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court granted, with conditions, the petition of Scott Selmer to reinstate his Wisconsin law license. Selmer’s reinstatement is conditioned on his entry into a payment plan with the OLR for outstanding unpaid costs and the appointment of a lawyer who will mentor Selmer during his transition back to the practice of law and provide quarterly reports to the OLR for 18 months. Disciplinary Proc. Against Selmer, 2021 WI 16, 371 Wis. 2d 377, 882 N.W.2d 815.
Selmer sought reinstatement from a 12-month suspension imposed in 2016, which was discipline identical to that imposed by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The OLR did not oppose Selmer’s reinstatement but recommended conditions similar to those the supreme court ultimately imposed. The referee assigned to review Selmer’s petition determined that Selmer had met all requirements for reinstatement and agreed that a mentor, as recommended by the OLR, was appropriate given the extent and nature of Selmer’s disciplinary record. The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed and reinstated Selmer, subject to the unpaid cost repayment and mentoring conditions, and also stated it would address the costs of the reinstatement proceeding itself in a separate order.
Reinstatement of Daniel Parks
On Feb. 11, 2021, the supreme court denied the reinstatement petition of Daniel Parks, Fond du Lac. The court found that Parks had failed to fulfill all the reinstatement requirements stated in SCR 22.31, including failing to make restitution to affected parties as required by SCR 22.29(4)(m). The court also ordered Parks to pay the full cost of the proceeding, totaling $6,370.43. Disciplinary Proc. Against Parks, 2021 WI 10. The court had suspended Parks’ law license for 14 months, effective Jan. 24, 2019, for dishonest dealings with his former firm and former clients, as well as failing to protect confidential client information. In its reinstatement decision, the court waived the rule requiring a nine-month waiting period for Parks to refile a reinstatement petition, if Parks complies with SCR 22.29(4)(m).
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stanley Whitmore Davis
On Feb. 17, 2021, the supreme court revoked the law license of Stanley Whitmore Davis, Madison. Disciplinary Proc. Against Davis, 2021 WI 12. The court also ordered Davis to pay restitution to several clients of $7,500, $7,500, and $4,000 and to pay the $1,497.67 cost of the disciplinary proceeding to the OLR.
Davis engaged in 11 counts of misconduct in two client matters. Davis’ misconduct included misapprehending a deadline and thereby missing a deadline to file a notice of claim, failing to pursue a civil claim on behalf of a client or timely determine if the claim had merit, failing to respond to a client’s request for a status update, failing to return unearned fees and a client file, failing to inform clients that his law license had been suspended, continuing to represent clients and provide legal services after his law license was suspended, and failing to cooperate with OLR investigations.
In his representation of clients, Davis violated SCR 20:1.1, SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4), and SCR 20:1.16(d). By continuing to represent clients and provide legal services after his law license suspensions, Davis violated SCR 10.03(6), SCR 22.26(2), and SCR 31.10(1), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f). By failing to notify clients of license suspensions, Davis violated SCR 22.26(1)(a), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f). Davis’ failures to cooperate with OLR investigations violated SCR 22.03(2), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h).
Davis had a previous one-year suspension. Disciplinary Proc. Against Davis, 2020 WI 48.
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.
Violations of SCR 20:1.5(g)(1) and (2)
A woman met with, hired, and paid a lawyer to provide criminal defense representation to her brother. At the meeting, the lawyer produced a fee agreement that included all necessary language under SCR 20:1.5(g) permitting deposit of an advanced fee into a non-trust business account. Neither the woman nor her brother ever signed the agreement. The woman was not provided a copy of the fee agreement. More important, her brother, the client in the matter, was never provided a copy of the document reflecting the terms of the representation. By failing to provide the client with a copy of the fee agreement or otherwise provide the client with the notices allowing the advanced fee paid to be held other than in a trust account, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.5(g)(1).
After a breakdown in communication, the court allowed the lawyer to withdraw. The client filed a grievance with the OLR. It was only after OLR intake staff reminded the lawyer of the post-representation notices required under SCR 20:1.5(g)(2) that the lawyer provided an accounting and notices to the client. By failing to provide the client with a final accounting and the required post-representation notices until prompted to do so by OLR intake staff, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.5(g)(2). The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Conflict of Interest; Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate; Failure to Comply with Trust Account Notice and Accounting Requirements
Violations of SCR 20:1.3, SCR 20:1.4(a), SCR 20:1.5(g), and SCR 20:1.7
A lawyer, while representing a client in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, agreed to represent the client’s relatives in seeking guardianship of the client and establishment of a special needs trust so that the client would qualify for means-tested public benefits. Although the client did not contest the guardianship, the representation was a conflict of interest, which the lawyer failed to recognize and address, violating SCR 20:1.7(a)(2).
The lawyer prepared and filed the documents necessary to have the client’s sibling appointed guardian but failed to establish the special needs trust and did not detect the failure. The lawyer violated SCR 20:1.3 and SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4) by this conduct. The guardian learned the trust had never been established when, three years later, a Medicaid auditor asked the guardian for documentation and the lawyer was unable to produce it. The ward’s public assistance benefits were suspended for more than six months until new counsel hired by the guardian was able to establish the special needs trust. During this time, the guardian had to pay the cost of the ward’s care out of pocket.
In the course of the grievance investigation, the lawyer discovered that the guardian had never been provided a final accounting of the advanced fee and the notices required by SCR 20:1.5(g)(2). The lawyer sent a closing letter and a refund of unearned fees at that time.
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Advanced-fee-placement-alternative Violation; Failure to Hold Funds in Trust; Failure to Protect Clients’ Interests upon Termination of Representation
Violations of SCR 20:1.5(g)(2), SCR 20:1.16(d), MRPC 1.15(g), and MRPC 1.16(d)
A lawyer, licensed to practice law in Michigan and Wisconsin, engaged in misconduct in two matters.
In the first matter, the lawyer accepted a $4,000 flat fee for divorce representation. The fee agreement complied with SCR 20:1.5(g)(1). After one month, the client terminated the representation and requested a refund. Four months later, the lawyer sent a closing letter, including the SCR 20:1.5(g)(2) notices, but no fee accounting. Seven months later, the lawyer refunded the $4,000 flat fee. Upon termination of representation, by failing to account for the work the lawyer performed and then failing to timely refund any unearned portion of the advanced flat fee, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.5(g)(2) and SCR 20:1.16(d).
In the second matter, a woman hired the lawyer following her arrest in Michigan for OWI. The OLR had jurisdiction to investigate the lawyer’s conduct under SCR 20:8.5(a). Because the woman was charged in Michigan district court, the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) applied, in accordance with SCR 20:8.5(b)(1).
After three months, the woman ended the representation. Shortly thereafter, the woman pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. More than eight months later, the lawyer provided to the woman a partial refund of the $2,500 flat fee.
By depositing the woman’s $2,500 flat fee directly into the lawyer’s business account, the lawyer violated MRPC 1.15(g). By failing to timely refund the unearned portion of the advanced flat fee, the lawyer violated MRPC 1.16(d).
The lawyer was privately reprimanded in 2015.
Lack of Diligence; Failure to Communicate in Criminal Matters
Violations of SCR 1.3 and SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4)
A lawyer was privately reprimanded for misconduct in two matters.
In the first matter, the lawyer was appointed appellate counsel for a man who had been convicted of felony seventh-offense OWI. The lawyer failed to file a postconviction motion on behalf of the client for almost three years, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. The lawyer also failed to communicate with the client for nine months, including failing to respond to a letter, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4).
In the second matter, the lawyer was asked by the federal court to represent a man who had filed a lawsuit alleging prison staff had violated his Eighth Amendment rights and further alleging medical negligence and medical malpractice by prison staff. The lawyer failed to communicate with the client during two periods, one lasting seven months and the second lasting approximately one-and-one-half months. The second period was immediately before the client’s trial. During these periods, the lawyer failed to call the client, failed to arrange to visit with the client, failed to respond to the client’s letters, and failed to inform the client of a court order, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
The lawyer had no prior discipline.
Conflict of Interest – Imputed
Violations of SCR 20:1.10(a)(2) and SCR 20:1.16(a)(1)
A law firm represented a company and also represented an individual formerly associated with the company. Ultimately, the client and the law firm concluded that litigation against the company was likely, at which point the firm tasked a litigator and a business attorney to prepare a complaint against the company.
At the approximate time that the client filed the civil complaint against the company, the litigation attorney and the business attorney left the law firm and joined another firm. At the same time, a lawyer [hereinafter the respondent] who was representing the company left the law firm and joined the same firm as the litigation attorney and the business attorney. After the second firm adopted comprehensive measures to screen the client’s former litigation and business attorneys, the respondent continued to represent the company adversely to the client.
The client’s former litigation and business attorneys had a conflict of interest pursuant to SCR 20:1.9. Because the client’s former attorneys had provided more than minor and isolated legal services to the client before joining the new firm, screening of the litigation and business attorneys was insufficient to remove imputation to the respondent. Accordingly, the respondent violated SCR 20:1.10(a)(2) and SCR 20:1.16(a)(1).
The respondent had no prior discipline.
Failure to Comply with Advance Fee Requirements
Violation of SCR 20:1.5(g)(2)
A man hired a lawyer to represent him regarding revocation of extended supervision. The client’s fiancée signed a $1,500 flat fee agreement on the client’s behalf and paid a $500 advance to be applied toward the total fee. The rest of the flat fee was to be paid in installments. The lawyer included language in his fee agreement mischaracterizing the initial payment as a “retainer.” SCR 20:1.0(mm) defines a retainer as “an amount paid specifically and solely to secure the availability of a lawyer” and specifies the “amount does not constitute payment for any specific legal services, whether past, present, or future and may not be billed against for fees or costs at any point.” The advanced payment received by the lawyer was for the purpose of paying a portion of the agreed-upon fee and therefore was not a retainer. The fee agreement specified that the lawyer would use the alternative means for protection of advanced fees under SCR 20:1.5(g) and contained all the notices required by the rule.
Although the full fee had not been paid, the lawyer represented the client at the revocation hearing, which resulted in the revocation of the client’s extended supervision. The representation ended upon the expiration of the client’s time to appeal the decision. The lawyer did not send the client a final accounting and the required post-representation notices and thereby violated SCR 20:1.5(g)(2).
The lawyer had a prior private reprimand and had been advised regarding the requirements of SCR 20:1.5(g)(2) in two prior OLR grievance matters.
Conflict of Interest – Prohibited Transactions
Violation of SCR 20:1.8(e)
A lawyer represented a client in some criminal matters. In one matter, the lawyer successfully negotiated a deferred prosecution agreement requiring the client to pay restitution. Although the client made some payments as part of the restitution obligation, she struggled financially. During this time, the lawyer communicated frequently with the client, who had a mental illness, a substance use disorder, and difficult family circumstances. Believing it was ethically permissible to help the client, the lawyer advanced the rest of the restitution owed. In addition, the lawyer purchased groceries and other items for the client.
The lawyer eventually learned that it was improper to advance restitution or provide gifts to a client under SCR 20:1.8(e) as restitution and that gifts are not a “cost” or “expense” of litigation. The lawyer withdrew from the representation due to a conflict of interest.
By advancing personal funds to pay a client’s restitution obligation, as well as purchasing gifts for a client, the lawyer violated SCR 20:1.8(e), which states, “(e) a lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that: (1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter; and (2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation of behalf of the client.”
The lawyer had no prior discipline.