July 8, 2008
Sixth Sanction Is Short Suspension
An attorney who had been the subject of two prior public reprimands, a private reprimand and two 60-day suspensions was suspended for 90 days by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He was retained by a wife to initiate a divorce. He filed a joint bankruptcy petition for the husband and wife "without obtaining consents from either of them" and failed to aprise them of developments in the matter. He then entered an appearance in a domestic abuse matter without the wife's consent.
Why such a light santion for the sixth disciplinary offense? The clients were "difficult" and the referee found the misconduct "astoundingly unexplainable." Nonetheless, the referee proposed adoption of the recommendation of the Office of Lawyer Regulation as to sanction and no appeal was taken. The result is hard to reconcile with the following observation by the referee:
By attempting to shift the blame for the poor handling of the bankruptcy case to his client, Attorney Woods demonstrates that he has very little insight into the impact of his violations on his clients or the duty of an attorney to protect his clients' interests unless properly relieved of the responsibilities of representation. Given the lack of such insight, it would appear likely to me that Attorney Woods will on some future occasion, once again, fall short of the standard of providing his clients competent legal representation unless the court sends him a strong punitive message.
There are stronger punitive measures available than the sanction imposed here. I have never been much of a fan of the idea that it is a mitigating factor that the client is "difficult." (Mike Frisch)
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