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 Jeffery J. Drach
On Dec. 23, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Jeffery J. Drach, Wausau, for his misconduct in two matters and ordered him to pay the $26,449.93 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Drach, 2020 WI 94.
In one matter, Drach violated fee and trust accounting rules. He had prepared estate planning documents for a woman and her husband in 2011, with the assumption the husband would predecease the woman. The woman became ill several years later and died first.
After the woman’s death, Drach worked on asset preservation and trust administration matters on the husband’s behalf. Drach did not have a written hourly fee agreement for either category of work. Also, the couple’s son, who had power of attorney for the father, signed a flat fee agreement for Drach to help prepare a medical assistance application for his father.
By charging an additional $975 in 2011 for life planning work when the work was actually for the transferring of assets without disclosing to the woman and her husband the basis or rate of the hourly fees, by failing to enter into a written fee agreement for asset preservation work in 2014, and by failing to enter into a written fee agreement for representation relating to trust administration, in each instance, Drach violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(1).
By failing to provide the woman’s son with the anticipated date of withdrawal of funds from trust to pay fees in November and December 2014, by failing to provide a written trust account balance in November 2014, by failing to provide an accurate written trust account balance in December 2014, and by estimating future noncontingent fees and withdrawing them from the trust account before they were earned in December 2014, in each instance, Drach violated former SCR 20:1.15(g).
In the second matter, Drach prepared estate planning documents for an elderly woman who had a husband with Alzheimer’s disease and two adult daughters. Drach completed the work covered in the flat fee agreement in 2010. In 2014, one of the daughters, who was named power of attorney, became gravely ill and asked Drach to review her mother’s documents to ensure things were in order. Drach did not have the daughter sign any agreement setting forth the nature of the legal work he would perform, nor did he discuss whether the legal work would be done on a flat fee or hourly basis. The daughter died several days after meeting with Drach.
Drach performed work on the woman’s file, and over time increased the hourly rate charged by his office without providing notice of the changes. By performing legal work on the woman’s file in 2014 and 2015 for estate planning without a written fee agreement and by failing to communicate in writing any changes to the basis or rate of the hourly fees related to the trust administration legal work, in each instance, Drach violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(1).
Drach received a public reprimand in 2002 and a private reprimand in 2008.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Heather Downs Russell
On March 2, 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Heather Downs Russell, Racine, and ordered Downs Russell to pay the $5,235.37 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Downs Russell, 2021 WI 18.
Downs Russell’s Wisconsin law license became inactive effective July 23, 2002. In 2015, Downs Russell applied for and obtained employment as an attorney with a Wisconsin law firm. In its offer letter, the firm noted that until Downs Russell regained active status to practice law in Wisconsin, she must refrain from holding herself out as an “attorney” practicing in Wisconsin. No later than Sept. 1, 2015, Downs Russell was aware that she would have to complete 60 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) to reactivate her license, and that she could not use on-demand CLE courses to satisfy that requirement. Downs Russell began her employment at the firm on Sept. 15, 2015, without telling anyone associated with the firm that she would be ineligible to file a request to return to active status until she had completed the required CLE.
At or soon after the commencement of her employment, Downs Russell began practicing law in Wisconsin, holding herself out and allowing the firm to hold her out as an attorney authorized to practice law in Wisconsin. By failing to inform the firm that her license remained inactive, and would remain so for an indefinite time, Downs Russell misled the firm into assuming that she had returned to active status.
In July 2016, the firm merged with another firm. Downs Russell did not inform anyone associated with the second firm that her Wisconsin law license was inactive.
Downs Russell did not complete the required CLE until April 2017 and did not request a return to active status until August 2017. The supreme court granted Downs Russell’s request to return to active status on Nov. 17, 2017.
By practicing law in Wisconsin when her Wisconsin law license was inactive, Downs Russell violated SCR 10.03(3)(c).
By using the titles “attorney” and “senior counsel” in Wisconsin when her Wisconsin law license was inactive, Downs Russell violated SCR 23.02(3), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f).
By engaging in a course of conduct that misled two firms that employed her into believing that she had an active Wisconsin law license, Downs Russell violated a standard of professional conduct established in Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shea, 190 Wis. 2d 560, 527 N.W.2d 314 (1995), enforced via SCR 20:8.4(f). Shea holds that an attorney has a fiduciary duty and a duty of honesty in their dealings with their law firm.
By misrepresenting on her 2018 State Bar of Wisconsin fiscal dues statement, “I do not practice law in Wisconsin,” and “I am currently inactive and have been enrolled in CLE courses to become active once again in Wisconsin,” while she was actively practicing law in Wisconsin, Downs Russell violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
Downs Russell had no prior discipline.
Reinstatement of Daniel W. Morse
On March 2, 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the law license of Daniel W. Morse and ordered him to pay the $5,448.81 cost of the reinstatement proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Morse, 2021 WI 17.
On May 21, 2019, the supreme court suspended the law license of Morse for one year for misconduct related to his serving as personal representative and attorney for the personal representative of an estate. His misconduct involved a violation of SCR 20:1.3 for failing to take steps to advance the estate; violations of SCR 20:8.4(c) and SCR 20:1.15(b) for failing to hold in trust more than $25,000 belonging to the estate and instead using those funds to pay personal obligations; a violation of SCR 20:1.16(d) for failing to promptly deliver to the successor personal representative all documents relating to the estate, including financial records; and a violation of SCR 20:3.4(c) for failing to turn over the financial records after being ordered by the court to do so.
Morse was charged criminally with regard to his mishandling of estate funds and pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of theft (embezzlement). The court imposed and stayed a sentence of six months in the House of Correction and placed Morse on probation for one year.
Following its investigation, the Office of Lawyer Regulation did not oppose Morse’s reinstatement. After a public reinstatement hearing, a referee found that Morse had met his burden of proof concerning reinstatement standards. The supreme court agreed and granted Morse’s petition.