January 23, 2013
No Way Of Knowing
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has imposed a five-month suspension of an attorney for misconduct that took place in 2007-2009.
The court noted that the attorney had already served a 60 day suspension for misconduct in the same time period:
Turning to the appropriate sanction, the referee is correct that we generally adhere to a pattern of progressive discipline. Attorney Harris's disciplinary history consists of a private reprimand, a public reprimand, and a 60-day suspension. After careful consideration, we conclude that the appropriate level of discipline is a five-month suspension of Attorney Harris's license to practice law.
We note that all of the client matters at issue here had their genesis in the 2007-2009 timeframe, which is the same time period at issue in the matters that led to Attorney Harris's suspension in 2010. Attorney Harris has stated that since that time, he has made substantial progress in handling the way he practices law. He now shares office space with a well-respected local attorney and consults with him on various cases. That attorney serves as Attorney Harris's mentor. Attorney Harris has downsized his practice, prioritizes his existing clients over attempting to obtain new ones, and no longer puts anything in his lower left-hand desk drawer. Attorney Harris's psychologist has confirmed these positive changes.
There is no way of knowing what sanction would have been imposed in the event all of the counts at issue in this matter had been brought in conjunction with the counts contained in the complaint that led to Attorney Harris's 60-day suspension in 2010. The counts of misconduct at issue in this case are serious failings. Nevertheless, we deem it appropriate to impose a five-month suspension, whereby Attorney Harris will be able to be reinstated by affidavit, see SCR 22.28(2), rather than a six-month suspension which would necessitate a full reinstatement proceeding, see SCRs 22.29-22.33, and would increase the actual time Attorney Harris was without a license to practice law.
This decision illuminates a real issue in bar discipline, i.e., having all disciplinary matters before a court at the same time. It is impossible to do so because client complaints trickle in, sometimes long after the unethical conduct. (Mike Frisch)
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