Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Glowing In the Dark

In a matter involving agreed-upon discipline, the Wisconsin Supreme Court today accepted the joint recommendation of a 60-day suspension for misconduct that appears to merit far harsher discipline. The attorney had been retained to represent the plaintiff in an auto accident case. Thereafter, the client died "from circumstances unrelated to the automobile accident." The attorney prepared and filed documents for a special probate proceeding with the widow as proposed special administrator.

The county child support agency filed claims for unpaid child support obligations slightly more than $126,000. The lawyer settled the accident case for $100,000 and falsely advised the probate court that the claim had been dismissed as worthless. He did not advise the widow of her conflicting duties as an individual and as estate representative. The widow received her settlement share of $57,199.26. The lawyer now "agree[s] that some portion of the $100,000 settlement proceeds may have belonged to the Estate..."

Here the court finds that the lawyer did not "personally benefit" from the dishonest conduct but I assume there was a contingency fee since the widow's share was roughly 60% of the proceeds. Also there were "six glowing letters of support" that the referee who approved the stipulated discipline found "give insight into a lawyer who has done much with his education and talents." Such as fraud on the child support authorities and on a tribunal. Not a glowing endorsement of agreed-upon discipline, in my view. (Mike Frisch)

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