Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lawyer Suspended After Wife Steals From Salvation Army

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has imposed a six-month suspension of an attorney, rejecting the Office of Lawyer Regulation's call for revocation.

The court concluded that OLR had failed to prove that the attorney engaged in misappropriation.

The disciplinary case involved the attorney's handling of two estate matters.

The more serious charges related to an estate for which the personal representative was the attorney's mother-in-law. The attorney represented her and placed estate proceeds in his escrow account.

One bequest - to the Salvation Army in the amount of $30,000 - was not paid. Rather, it was misappropriated by the attorney's wife, who was his longtime legal secretary.

The referee found that the attorney had no knowledge of the theft:

...the referee explicitly found that Attorney Goluba was not aware of the ongoing misappropriation of funds.  The referee reached this finding based on record evidence and testimony of the people involved.  He found that "it [was] absolutely clear who ran the details and the business of the Goluba Law Office.  It was Janice Goluba.  [Attorney Goluba] trusted her implicitly and gave her responsibility to handle most of the affairs of the office."  The referee found and the record supports his finding that Attorney Goluba experienced health problems unrelated to this case and was not able to function as efficiently as he had in the past.  As a result, Janice Goluba assumed extensive responsibility for the office including keeping Attorney Goluba's calendar, making hisappointments, drafting his letters, making his phone calls, picking up the mail, taking messages, handling all the billing and receipts, and making all of the payments.  The referee stated, "In short, other than practicing law, she did everything else in the Goluba Law Office.  [Attorney Goluba] trusted her implicitly and, to the best of his knowledge, she had never breached that trust."

When the Salvation Army inquired, the attorney learned of his wife's theft. He met with his mother-in-law, who ponied up the $30,000 to help her daughter. The referee and the court found that the OLR's charges relating to the attorney's encounter with his mother-in-law were not proven.

We reject the OLR's request for revocation.  Attorney Goluba has, indeed, committed serious misconduct that warrants suspension of his license.  However, the referee decisively rejected the OLR's assertion that Attorney Goluba had ongoing knowledge of the misappropriation of funds or that he manipulated R.L. into writing him a check to cover that misappropriation.  Upon learning of the misappropriation, Attorney Goluba promptly took steps to ensure The Salvation Army was paid.  His mother-in-law, R.L., has disavowed any claim that she was manipulated into paying Attorney Goluba.  Accordingly, the most serious ethical charges against Attorney Goluba fail.

The court cut the costs imposed against the attorney by 50% in light of his exoneration on the most serious allegations. (Mike Frisch)

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