Wednesday, December 19, 2012
In a case involving misconduct of "epic proportions," a unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court imposed the sanction of license revocation.
The case involved an attorney who purchased a law practice in 1999. He had previously been a shareholder in the practice and was aware that the seller attorney had a (to put it charitably) non-compliant trust situation:
Attorney Weigel stated that before he bought out Alvin Eisenberg, he understood the trust account was running a deficit but he claimed he did not know the full extent of the deficit. In his testimony at the hearing, Attorney Weigel said that when he and his partners bought Alvin Eisenberg out, "I would have believed the problem to be closer in the $200,000, $250,000 range. After we bought him out and some other things started to come to light, it was obvious that we were closer to the million dollar range than the $250,000 range." When asked how long after the March 1999 buyout Attorney Weigel came to the conclusion that the trust account was running closer to a million dollar deficit, he estimated "somewhere over the course of six months or so," which would have meant late 1999 or early 2000. When asked whether he gave any thought to reporting Alvin Eisenberg to the relevant authorities and walking away, Attorney Weigel responded, "I thought of it but just made a moral decision not to do that."
Rather than bring the practice into compliance, the attorney engaged in a thirteen year practice of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" by paying trust funds owed to clients and providers on a "squeakiest wheel" basis.
As to sanction:
A six- or seven-figure deficit in an account that holds client funds is an ethical failure of epic proportions. We agree with the OLR that it would be difficult to imagine a more aggravated pattern of misconduct than the one presented here. We agree with the OLR that any sanction less than revocation would undermine the public's confidence in the honesty and integrity of the bar.