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.
Reinstatement of Joseph R. Laumann
On Nov. 23, 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the law license of Joseph R. Laumann. Disciplinary Proc. Against Laumann, 2021 WI 83.
Effective Jan. 18, 2019, Laumann’s Wisconsin law license was suspended for six months, as discipline reciprocal to that imposed by the Court of Appeals of Maryland. The suspension was based on Laumann’s misconduct in four client matters and included failing to hold client funds in trust, failing to maintain trust account records, making misrepresentations to courts and fabricating documents, failing to appear for hearings, improperly disclosing confidential information, and attempting to collect legal fees he had already collected. Laumann was ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings. Disciplinary Proc. Against Laumann, 2019 WI 3.
Laumann filed a petition for reinstatement on June 21, 2021. Following an investigation, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) filed an SCR 22.30(4) response supporting Laumann’s petition. The OLR and Laumann subsequently filed an SCR 22.30(5)(a) stipulation requesting reinstatement. The Wisconsin Supreme Court approved the stipulation and issued an order reinstating Laumann’s license. At the time of the supreme court’s Nov. 23, 2021, order, Laumann’s Wisconsin law license remained administratively suspended because of his failure to pay mandatory bar dues.
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Walter W. Stern III
On Nov. 23, 2021, the supreme court suspended the law license of Walter W. Stern III, Kenosha, for 60 days, effective Jan. 4, 2022, and ordered him to pay the full $5,515.41 cost of the disciplinary proceeding. Disciplinary Proc. Against Stern, 2021 WI 84.
Stern was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1974. The misconduct leading to his 60-day suspension occurred in two matters.
In the first matter, Stern represented a client in a pending child-support action, a dog-bite-injury case, and potential claims against a neighbor and the Wauwatosa Police Department. Stern provided the client and the client’s mother with a document titled “Promissory Note With Payment on Demand,” which stated that the client was to pay Stern $25,000 toward the child-support and dog-bite matters ($8,000) and for the work performed by an investigator for Stern ($17,000). By having the client and the client’s mother sign a promissory note and assignment for $25,000 without notifying them in writing of the desirability of seeking, and giving them a reasonable opportunity to seek, the advice of independent counsel, and without informing them and obtaining written consent from them about the essential terms of the transaction and Stern’s role in the transaction including whether he was representing them in the transaction, Stern violated SCR 20:1.8(a).
Stern appeared for the client in the child-support, termination-of-parental rights, and adoption case in Winnebago County Circuit Court and moved the court to appoint a guardian ad litem for the client to provide the court with information about the client’s competency. The court approved a stipulation allowing Stern to expend $2,000 of funds retained in his trust account to hire a doctor to conduct a psychological evaluation of the client. By failing to promptly deliver $2,000 directly to the doctor from funds held in trust for services rendered by the doctor, Stern violated SCR 20:1.15(e)(l).
In the second matter, Stern’s misconduct was related to his actions in an estate case in which a special administrator was appointed. The special administrator signed a fee agreement to have a Seattle law firm represent the estate in potential civil claims. The Seattle firm contacted local (Milwaukee) counsel to assist them. In the meantime, the decedent’s adult sons had elected to retain Stern. Local counsel emailed Stern informing him that the special administrator was still the special administrator for the estate and that she had retained counsel. Stern emailed the special administrator directly, indicating that he intended to have her replaced as special administrator. By communicating directly with the special administrator concerning the estate matter, Stern violated SCR 20:4.2(a).
Stern received private reprimands in 1988, 1993, and 2008; a public reprimand in 1992; and a two-year suspension in 2013.