Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sharing Disciplinary Responsibility

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided a reciprocal discipline case involving the interplay of disciplinary orders against an attorney also admitted in Minnesota. The court held that reciprocal and original matters should not be joined, that a sanction imposed by Minnesota was a fresh order of discipline that merited a reciprocal sanction and that the attorney's constitutional challenge was baseless:

As for Attorney Crandall's constitutional arguments that this court lacks authority or jurisdiction to "punish" him for misconduct that occurred in Minnesota, they are based on an improper understanding of this court's constitutional obligation to regulate the practice of law in Wisconsin and of the nature of professional discipline. The Wisconsin Constitution vests the judicial authority of the state in a unified court system, Wis. Const. art VII, ยง 2, and gives this court superintending and administrative authority over all courts in the state.

As we have noted in prior cases, because attorneys are an important part of the administration of justice in the courts of this state and because the constitutional grants of authority obligate this court to ensure that courts function efficiently and effectively to provide for the due administration of justice, this court has the inherent and exclusive authority and power to regulate and discipline members of the bar in this state.(citations omitted) Thus, our imposition of discipline for professional misconduct that allegedly occurred in another state does not accord extraterritorial effect to Wisconsin's Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys. See SCR ch. 20. Rather, imposing reciprocal discipline is a means (1) to ensure that attorneys who have been granted the privilege to practice law in this state comport themselves in this state in a manner that promotes the efficient administration of the law, and (2) to protect the citizens of this state who require the assistance of a competent and trustworthy attorney.

Moreover, the imposition of professional discipline related to the practice of law in this state is of a different nature than punishing an individual in Wisconsin for a criminal act wholly committed in another state. The imposition of discipline does not have as its purpose to punish the respondent attorney, but rather to protect the public, the courts and the legal profession in Wisconsin from incompetent and unfit attorneys.

(Mike Frisch)

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