Friday, March 21, 2008

Sanction By Default

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin imposed a two-year suspension in a matter in which the accused attorney had defaulted on charges of 17 ethical violations. The misconduct arose from a business transaction that the attorney had entered into with her office assistant to purchase and operate the Moonlight Supper Club. The attorney was attorney for the business entity created to make the purchase and was charged, among other things, with dishonesty, misrepresentation and trust account violations.

As to possible mitigation, it was noted that the attorney had moved to North Carolina and no longer practices law in Wisconsin:

"Although not described as a mitigating factor by the referee, it is noteworthy that Attorney Smith informed the referee that she was injured by a lightning strike in October 2001 and continues to suffer health problems including 'gradual decline in physical muscle control, memory and stress management' that induced her to close her practice in 2003. She had not previously been subject to discipline. She also disputed some of the allegations, primarily with respect to the amount of knowledge, information and control Schmidt [the office assistant/partner] had over the financial aspects of the failed business. She noted that the grievants' allegations were not made until after they collected unemployment compensation from her office. She adds:

'Lest the Court thinks I take any of these accusations lightly, this is my life and reputation that has been ruined. I have suffered for more than three years with Ms. Schmidt's and her family and friends accusations. I had voiced to OLR in 2004 that I desired to retire my license as I could not afford dues nor attend CLE's for a profession that I could no longer practice.'  "

It would certainly have been preferable to these charges resolved through a contested hearing rather than a default. It is hard not to have some sympathy for the accused lawyer. (Mike Frisch)


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