November 7, 2011
Attempt To Circumvent Fee Cap Draws Stayed Suspension
The web page of the North Carolina State Bar reports:
[An attorney] of Raleigh deducted from his clients' Vioxx settlements purported expenses in amounts significantly greater than he actually incurred in an effort to circumvent the court's cap on attorney fees. The DHC imposed a two-year suspension. The suspension is stayed for five years.
The bar complaint is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
"If They Can't Find You They Can't Serve You"
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has revoked the license of an attorney for misconduct relating to the operation of a bed and breakfast and an apartment building.
The allegations in the 59-page OLR complaint, which are discussed in great detail in the 52-page referee's report, will not be extensively recited or repeated here. The counts of misconduct all arose out of Attorney Michael's operation of a bed and breakfast in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and an apartment building in Watertown, Wisconsin. Attorney Michael and her husband, Frederick Decker, formed a variety of legal entities, some of which had been involved in running the bed and breakfast and apartment building. In her management of the bed and breakfast, Attorney Michael used a variety of aliases in dealing with employees and the Oconomowoc Police Department often in an effort to evade payment of the bed and breakfast's obligations. At various times, Attorney Michael told bed and breakfast employees that her name was "Jennifer," "Monica," "Rochelle," "Sarah," and "Ally." Attorney Michael told one employee that her philosophy was "if they can't find you they can't serve you." Employees figured out that the person who called herself by these various names was actually Attorney Michael because Waukesha County sheriff's deputies and process servers came to the bed and breakfast frequently to serve Attorney Michael with process or to collect money.
The OLR's complaint alleged that Attorney Michael engaged in professional misconduct in an effort to avoid paying wages to bed and breakfast employees. The complaint alleged that Attorney Michael failed to pay $408 to a 14-year-old boy who worked at the bed and breakfast in late 2006. The boy's mother did not allow her son to return to work because he had not been paid for work he had already performed. Attorney Michael asserted to other employees that federal law required her to withhold an employee's pay unless specific identification was provided. This claim was untrue since a representative of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Equal Rights Division, advised the boy's mother that his work permit was sufficient identification for him to be paid.
In late 2006 the boy's mother made numerous telephone calls and visits to the bed and breakfast trying to collect her son's pay. Although Attorney Michael did not pay the boy, she attempted to deter his mother from seeking compensation on his behalf. Attorney Michael filed written statements with the Oconomowoc Police Department claiming the boy's mother had made well over 150 phone calls to Attorney Michael's private, business, and family phones in the past few days and had gone to Attorney Michael's residence six to ten times per day, staying at the property 20 to 30 minutes each time. On two occasions in early December 2006, Attorney Michael filed written statements with the Oconomowoc Police Department accusing the boy's mother of trespassing at the bed and breakfast. Attorney Michael later claimed the boy's mother "is a tyrant and has been coming to the bed-and-breakfast at least six to 10 times a day and has placed at least 200 phone calls in the last month. . . . "
The attorney also failed to pay a contractor:
The OLR's complaint also alleged that Attorney Michael engaged in a variety of misconduct to avoid paying wages to contractors who performed work at the bed and breakfast. The complaint alleged that Attorney Michael failed to pay money owed to a man who hung drywall at the bed and breakfast. The man took his tools and left after not receiving payment. Attorney Michael and her husband went to the man's residence unannounced and demanded that the man give them the tools necessary to complete the drywall work. The tools belonged to the man and he refused to turn them over. A physical altercation ensued involving Attorney Michael's husband and the man, in which the man suffered a broken elbow and a bruised hip. The man filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against Attorney Michael and her husband.
Attorney Michael sent a fax to the circuit judge saying that the man had an extensive drinking and drug problem and claimed to be the largest distributor of THC in Dodge and Waukesha counties. Attorney Michael's husband was charged with battery and criminal damage to property stemming from the incident. The district attorney later amended the battery charge to disorderly conduct in exchange for Attorney Michael's husband pleading guilty to the amended charge. The criminal damage to property charge was dismissed and read in. The drywaller received a three-year injunction against Attorney Michael and her husband. A circuit court commissioner sent a letter to Attorney Michael reminding her that supreme court rules prohibit a lawyer from communicating ex parte with a judge about a matter pending before the court.
As to sanction:
Revocation of an attorney's license to practice law is the most severe sanction this court can impose. It is reserved for the most egregious cases. Although Attorney Michael had a license to practice law for only three years before her license was suspended for nonpayment of State Bar dues, during that short timeframe, she engaged in repeated, aggravated, and sometimes disturbing conduct that demonstrates she is apparently unable to conform her conduct to the standards expected of all members of the Wisconsin bar. In light of the extremely aggravated nature of the misconduct, we conclude that no sanction short of revocation would be sufficient to protect the public, achieve deterrence, and impress upon Attorney Michael the seriousness of her misconduct. We also agree that Attorney Michael should be assessed the full costs of the proceeding.
JSO Online had this earlier report. (Mike Frisch)
A Precarious Situation
An attorney who had abandoned his practice was suspended for nine months by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The attorney had not initially participated in the bar discipline proceedings, but eventually stipulated to misconduct.
The referee acknowledged that Attorney N...was receiving treatment for alcohol abuse and that his living situation was precarious. However, the referee noted that there are many resources available to attorneys who seek assistance with substance abuse or who wish to end a law practice. The referee observed that while the OLR cited over 15 separate disciplinary matters in support of the joint recommendation, the cases reflect a range of penalties, and many impose a six-month suspension. See, e.g., In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Berlin, 2008 WI 4, 306 Wis. 2d 288, 743 N.W.2d 683. The referee thus "leaves it to this court to determine the exact length of [Attorney] N...'s suspension." The referee did agree that restitution to J.S. is appropriate and further agreed that Attorney N... should pay the costs of the proceeding.
The court ordered restitution to a client. (Mike Frisch)
Judicial Candidate Must Cease And Desist Claiming Multiple College Degrees
The Supreme Court of Ohio has entered an order in a judicial campaign matter which requires the candidate to
immediately and permanently cease and disist from using campaign materials that indicate the respondent has earned more than two college "degrees"; that his major or minor areas of study are separate college "degrees'; and that his Certificate in International Trade and develpoment is a college 'degree."
The court is considering the report of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline in the matter.
The Toledo Balde had this coverage. (Mike Frisch)