The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), an agency of the Wisconsin
Supreme Court, provides these summaries. The OLR assists the
court in supervising the practice of law and protecting the public
from misconduct by lawyers. The OLR has offices at 110 E. Main
St., Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703; toll-free (877) 315-6941. Find
the full text of these summaries at www.wicourts.gov/olr.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Craig A. Knapp
On Feb. 25, 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revoked the law license of Craig A. Knapp, Wausau. Disciplinary Proc. Against Knapp, 2021 WI 15.
Knapp pleaded no contest to nine counts of misconduct alleged in the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) complaint, agreed to the revocation of his law license, and agreed to make restitution in the amount of $33,444.50 to a client.
Knapp’s misconduct included failing to disburse $33,444.50 to a client. By failing to deliver the funds to the client, Knapp violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(1). Further, by failing to hold the client’s funds in trust, Knapp violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1). By failing to fully and accurately respond to the client’s requests for an accounting and information concerning the status of the funds received, Knapp violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(4). By converting the client’s funds, providing false information to the client concerning the client’s amounts held in his trust account, misrepresenting to the client and the client’s new attorney the amount of funds Knapp had been holding on behalf of the client and that the funds had been seized via execution of an IRS levy on his trust account, and misrepresenting to the OLR the amount of funds he had been holding on behalf of the client and that all the funds had been seized via execution of an IRS levy on his trust account, Knapp, in each instance, violated SCR 20:8.4(c). By depositing earned fees into his trust account, Knapp violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(3).
In addition, by making 15 electronic disbursements from his trust account totaling $18,352.93 between September 2017 and January 2019, Knapp violated SCR 20:1.15(f)(3). By making a $100 cash withdrawal from his trust account, Knapp violated SCR 20:1.15(f)(2)a.
Finally, by engaging in conduct leading to his conviction of fourth-offense operating while intoxicated (OWI), Knapp violated SCR 20:8.4(b). By failing to notify the OLR and the clerk of the supreme court of his criminal OWI conviction, Knapp violated SCR 21.15(5), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f).
Knapp received a private reprimand in 1991 for a conflict-of-interest violation.
Reinstatement of John Hotvedt
On June 4, 2021, the supreme court reinstated the law license of John Hotvedt, Burlington, finding that Hotvedt complied with post-suspension requirements and met all reinstatement requirements. The court also ordered Hotvedt to pay the full $4,867.82 cost of the reinstatement proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Hotvedt, 2021 WI 49.
Hotvedt’s law license had been suspended for 18 months, effective Dec. 30, 2016, for five counts of misconduct, the most serious of which was converting more than $173,000 from his former law firm.
Disciplinary Proceeding Against Christopher S. Petros
On June 9, 2021, the supreme court revoked the law license of Christopher S. Petros, Hudson. The court also ordered Petros to pay restitution of $5,000 to the father of a former client and the $3,910.22 cost of the disciplinary proceeding to the OLR. Disciplinary Proc. Against Petros, 2021 WI 55.
Petros committed 16 counts of misconduct spanning five client matters. It included violation of the following rules: SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2) (failure to enter into a written fee agreement); SCR 20:1.5(f) (failure to place an advanced fee in his trust account); SCR 20:1.5(h)(1) (failure to provide the required notices when removing an advanced fee from his trust account); SCR 20:3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal); SCR 20:8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in a case for which he was appointed as counsel by the state public defender, failed to disclose the appointment, and accepted $5,000 in privately paid fees); SCR 22.26(1)(a) (failure to notify his clients by certified mail of the suspension of his law license); SCR 22.26(1)(c) (failure to provide prompt notice of the suspension of his law license to the court and opposing counsel); SCR 22.26(2) (two violations, practicing law after the suspension of his law license); and SCR 22.03(2) and (6) (seven violations, failure to cooperate with the OLR’s investigations).
Petros’ prior discipline consisted of a 90-day suspension in 2014, a public reprimand in 2017, and a two-year suspension in 2020. Petros’ law license is currently administratively suspended.
Public Reprimand of Kerri T. Cleghorn
The OLR and Kerri T. Cleghorn, Milwaukee, entered into an agreement for the imposition of a public reprimand, pursuant to SCR 22.09(1), regarding two separate matters. A supreme court-appointed referee approved the agreement and issued the public reprimand on June 9, 2021, in accordance with SCR 22.09(3).
In the first matter, in June 2017 a woman hired Cleghorn to represent the woman’s son (the client). The woman signed a written fee agreement for Cleghorn to represent the client in a petition for review to the supreme court in a criminal appellate case. Cleghorn accepted advanced fee payments totaling $15,000 but did not deposit them in trust or comply with the alternative protection for advanced fees, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(f). Cleghorn never took any action in connection with the client’s petition for review; instead, she later reached an oral understanding with the client that Cleghorn would attempt to find new information to get a new trial granted. Cleghorn failed to communicate in writing these changes in the scope of the representation and purpose of the advanced fees, in violation of SCR 20:1.5(b)(1) and (2). Cleghorn also failed to provide the client with a copy of the fee agreement signed by the client’s mother, despite multiple requests, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(4) and 1.5(b)(3).
In May 2020, the client informed Cleghorn that he wished to terminate the representation and requested a refund, an itemized accounting, and his client file. Cleghorn delayed in providing these items to the client for approximately eight months, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a)(4), SCR 20:1.5(b)(3), and SCR 20:1.16(d). Cleghorn’s invoice reflects that she performed a relatively limited amount of work on the client’s behalf in the more than three years that she represented him, in violation of SCR 20:1.3.
In the second matter, a woman hired Cleghorn in April 2020 to transfer jurisdiction of an out-of-state juvenile guardianship to Wisconsin and to litigate termination of the guardianship. Cleghorn filed the necessary petitions for both actions in May 2020. At a hearing in August 2020, the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the petition for transfer of guardianship because it had to be filed by the guardian, which the client was not. Because of this determination, the court did not address the petition to terminate the guardianship. Believing that the court incorrectly applied adult guardianship law to a juvenile guardianship case, Cleghorn agreed to appeal the court’s dismissal of the case on the client’s behalf. However, Cleghorn did not file the correct type of notice to allow the client to appeal the dismissal and ultimately caused the client to miss the deadline to appeal, in violation of SCR 20:1.1 and SCR 20:1.3.
Medical Incapacity Proceedings Against Laura Waite
On March 15, 2021, Laura Waite filed a request pursuant to SCR 22.34(11) for indefinite suspension of her Wisconsin law license due to her medical incapacity. Following investigation, the OLR filed a response supporting that request. On April 27, 2021, the supreme court indefinitely suspended Waite’s law license. Medical Incapacity Proc. Against Waite, 2021 WI 38.
Disciplinary Proceeding Against James C. Ritland
On April 22, 2021, the supreme court suspended the law license of James C. Ritland, Black River Falls, for two years, commencing June 3, 2021. In addition, the court ordered that Ritland pay the $21,017.24 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Ritland, 2021 WI 36. Ritland moved for reconsideration, and the court denied his motion.
The case concerned sexual misconduct that resulted in Ritland’s conviction for two counts of attempted adultery and one count of disorderly conduct. Ritland exploited the vulnerabilities of two women and his standing as an attorney to have “quid pro quo” sexual contact at his law office. Ritland’s conduct underlying the conviction reflected adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness as a lawyer in other respects, in violation of SCR 20:8.4(b).
In determining that Ritland’s conduct called for a two-year suspension instead of the three-month suspension recommended by the referee or the six-month suspension sought by the OLR, the court noted that it has applied increasing scrutiny to attorneys’ sexual misconduct, stating, “attorneys who engage in sexual misconduct do so at their professional peril.”
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Joseph M. Capistrant
On May 25, 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended the Wisconsin law license of Joseph M. Capistrant, Osseo, Minn., for 60 days as discipline reciprocal to a 2018 Minnesota Supreme Court disbarment. Disciplinary Proc. Against Capistrant, 2021 WI 46.
The 2018 Minnesota suspension resulted from Capistrant’s misconduct in one client matter and his failure to respond to the Minnesota disciplinary investigation. Capistrant did not deposit advanced fees in trust or perform legal work for or respond to the client. He then failed to cooperate with the disciplinary investigation. Capistrant did not notify the OLR of the Minnesota discipline.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court previously suspended Capistrant in 2015 for 90 days.