Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pay Dr. D.

While noting that the determination of sanction in a bar discipline matter is "not an exact science," the Wisconsin Supreme Court imposed a 90-day suspension and restitution in matter in which the attorney had failed to pay chiropractic bills. The facts:

All of the allegations in the current complaint involve a business referral relationship that Attorney['s] law firm ("the law firm") maintained with a chiropractor, Dr. D.  Attorney...or his partner...and certain clients would execute a doctor's lien whereby the client and the law firm agreed to pay for Dr. D.'s chiropractic services out of anticipated settlement proceeds

The OLR complaint alleged that in 15 cases where such a lien existed, the law firm failed to send proper written notice to Dr. D. when settlement funds were received.  In some cases the law firm did inform Dr. D. that a settlement had been received.  However, the referee ruled these communications did not satisfy the supreme court rule requirements, and Attorney...does not contest that finding.

In many of these cases the law firm did not pay the full amount of the chiropractic bill.  Notably, neither Attorney...nor the law firm necessarily benefited financially from the law firm's failure to pay these chiropractic bills in full.  The record reflects the law firm or the client sought to negotiate a fee reduction in these cases.

At some point Dr. D. retained a collection firm to pursue these accounts.  On at least two occasions the law firm wrote checks in partial payment of a client's chiropractic bill with the intention of settling the fee dispute in full.  In both cases the proffered settlement check was promptly endorsed and cashed, but Dr. D. claimed he did not receive these monies.  The license of the collection firm employed by Dr. D. was later revoked for failing to turn over collected funds to clients.

Dr. D. initiated small claims cases against some of these clients to recoup his fees.  Eventually, Dr. D. agreed to take remaining fees held in the law firm's trust account in satisfaction of these obligations.  He obtained a judgment against the client in three matters.

On February 4, 2006, after Dr. D. had filed a series of grievances against Attorney..., the law firm and Attorney...(in his personal capacity) filed a civil action against Dr. D. seeking a declaratory judgment that all chiropractic fees due and owing to Dr. D. had been paid.  Dr. D. did not respond to the complaint.  On June 22, 2006, the MilwaukeeCounty

circuit court issued a default judgment ruling that if the law firm transferred amounts remaining in the law firm's trust account to Dr. D., this transfer would satisfy the law firm's obligations to Dr. D. in full.  The judgment did not absolve clients of potential indebtedness to Dr. D.

The attorney and his partner were previously disciplined for a series of matters involving neglect and failure to communicate with clients. (Mike Frisch)

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