Wednesday, January 16, 2008
An attorney with a previous record of a public reprimand was suspended for 60 days by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The attorney was appointed to represent a defendant who was eventually sent to prison. While the client was incarcerated, the lawyer hired him as a paralegal:
"In late 2001 or early 2002, while
incarcerated, J.M., a former paralegal, informed Attorney Compton that he would
be interested in doing legal research work for Attorney Compton. In January 2002 Attorney Compton made
arrangements whereby J.M. would perform legal research for him. Attorney Compton
forwarded a case file to J.M. at the Dodge Correctional Institution without his client's prior knowledge or approval. J.M. performed legal research on this file for Attorney Compton. The referee specifically found that while J.M. was incarcerated, Attorney Compton did not have effective procedures in place to supervise J.M., to ensure that his conduct was compatible with Attorney Compton's professional obligations, or to ensure that J.M. would be able to maintain the confidentiality of the client matter while working from prison."
The lawyer continued to employ J.M. after he was released. The lawyer was found to have failed to adequately supervise his paralegal. However, the court noted the finding that the work of the paralegal was well-performed: "while not excusing the ethical violation or the potential harm to clients, the referee did note that J.M., a former paralegal, apparently performed competently and obtained 'good results' for the clients."
More serious misconduct was involved when the lawyer billed 120 hours of the paralegals time as his own, receiving $4,800 in court-approved fees as a result of false representations. After the misconduct was discovered, he self-reported to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. One might think that a fraudulent misrepresentation to obtain unearned fees from public funds, committed by a lawyer with a prior record, merits more than a 60 day interruption of practice. (Mike Frisch)