Tuesday, September 25, 2012
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ordered a public reprimand in a complaint brought against an attorney by his former firm alleging failure to protect the firm's interest in fees generated in cases that the attorney took with him.
The court agreed that the case was, in the main, a business fight between lawyers:
...we adopt the referee's findings of fact. We also agree with the referee's conclusions of law and his recommendation regarding the appropriate level of discipline. We conclude that a public reprimand is sufficient to achieve the objectives of attorney discipline. As the referee noted in his prefatory remarks to his lengthy report and recommendation, this is an unusual disciplinary case which is, for the most part, a business dispute between Attorney Gende and his former employer. No client reported being dissatisfied with Attorney Gende's representation, and no clients were deprived of funds to which they were entitled. The referee commented, "On one level, what followed was nothing more than a dispute between Attorney Gende and [Cannon & Dunphy] as to . . . fees. Mr.Gende and [Cannon & Dunphy] litigated the latter's entitlement to fees in a number of fora." The referee referred to the lengthy dispute between Attorney Gende and Cannon & Dunphy as a "war." Although Attorney Gende was unable to persuade any court that Cannon & Dunphy was not entitled to the fees it claimed, the referee found it significant that no court found Attorney Gende's arguments to be frivolous. While we agree with the referee that Attorney Gende's conduct and his repeated stalling tactics in an effort to avoid paying fees owed to Cannon & Dunphy were inappropriate, and that his conduct was contrary to Wisconsin's Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, we agree with the referee that under the unique facts of this case a public reprimand is sufficient to impress upon Attorney Gende the seriousness of his actions and to deter other attorneys from engaging in similar conduct.