April 21, 2010
A Small Claim
The Wisconsin Supreme Court imposed a public reprimand of an attorney who had "overlitigated" a small claims case, took a position that created a conflict of interest by arguing that he, but not the clients, should not be sanctioned for litigation misconduct and pursing frivolous contentions. The court described the conduct as found by the hearing referee:
Attorney...continued to pursue the small claims litigation——over a bill of less than $500——despite clear warnings from the trial court and the court of appeals that his arguments were "silly" and that further discovery would be "frivolous on its face." Indeed, at one point the circuit court advised Attorney... that if he pursued discovery on his third motion for sanctions the court would "anticipate putting you [Attorney] in jail for it." The referee made the following findings:
The Findings clearly indicate that Attorney...was very aggressive in this case and refused to accept the decision of the trial court and decisions of the Court of Appeals. His action in the case was clearly frivolous. He had a fixation on his interpretation of the Wisconsin Consumer Act and would not tolerate any other position but his. In the disciplinary hearing he spent more time on substantiating his position in the small [claims] case than defending himself on the five counts in the Disciplinary Complaint. He clearly violated Count 1, and I so find.
We adopt these findings.
The court sustained a number of other misconduct findings, including:
...we agree that Attorney...violated ethical standards when he accused defense counsel of harassing [his clients] M.O. and R.O., pilfering them financially, and denying their day in court. For example, Attorney...stated, "Defendants' counsels had to resort to fraud, perjury, threats of violence, and intentional misstatements to obtain their void judgments." A review of the record reflects that both Attorneys Drosen and Stein denied making any threats of violence towards Attorney.... Attorney...claimed that Stein "shook his fist" in the [his] face of Attorney...and "mumbled" words about the prospects of collecting money from his client. Attorney Stein denied this occurred.
The referee agreed that by describing the alleged conduct as "threats of violence" Attorney...mischaracterized to the court what had occurred. The referee stated, and we agree that:
The statement made in the motion for sanction[s] [filed] on [July 5, 2005] that the defense attorneys had made threats of violence against [him] has no foundation.
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