Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sex And False Denials Lead To Reprimand

An attorney who engaged in a sexual relationship with a client and lied about it to his firm and the Office of Lawyer Regulation has been publicly reprimanded by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The client retained the attorney to pursue a civil complaint against her former teacher and represent her in the former teacher's criminal trial. They had not had a previously intimate relationship.

In April of 2009, while the civil and criminal cases were still pending, Attorney Ruppelt and T.W. began a sexual relationship.  In mid-April 2009, the Firm became aware that Attorney Ruppelt may have been engaging in a sexual relationship with T.W. while representing her.  Attorney Ruppelt continued to represent T.W. until he and the Firm determined he could no longer do so, given the concerns surrounding the nature of his relationship with T.W.

On April 19, 2009, Attorney Ruppelt met with Attorney James Gatzke, and Paul Bucher, another senior attorney at the law firm, to discuss the Firm's concerns about Attorney Ruppelt's relationship with T.W.  At the meeting, Attorney Ruppelt falsely represented to Attorneys Gatzke and Bucher that he had not received or exchanged any texts, e-mail, or voicemail messages of any kind with T.W. that were of a personal nature and unrelated to the law firm's representation of T.W. in her civil and criminal cases.  In fact, Attorney Ruppelt had received an e-mail from T.W. on April 17, 2009, that was of a personal nature.  At the April 19 meeting, Attorney Ruppelt falsely represented that he had not engaged in a sexual relationship with T.W. while representing her.  Attorney Ruppelt agreed not to have contact with T.W. following the April 19 meeting.  On several occasions after April 19, 2009, Attorney Ruppelt denied to Attorney Gatzke that he was involved in a romantic relationship with T.W.

In May or June of 2009, Attorney Ruppelt acknowledged to Attorney Gatzke that he was engaging in a sexual relationship with T.W. at that time. 

The attorney and T.W. were married in 2010. The OLR had sought a 60-day suspension but did not appeal the referee's proposed reprimand sanction.

Justcie Bradley, joined by Chief Justice Abrahamson, dissented as the leniency of the sanction and decision of the majority not to impose full costs

I would impose full costs.  SCR 22.24(1m) states the court's "general policy [] that upon a finding of misconduct, it is appropriate to impose all costs."  The rule then sets forth the factors to consider when determining whether to deviate from that general policy and reduce the costs.

Because the per curiam does not explain or evaluate how those factors apply in this case, there has been no showing that we should deviate from our general policy here.

(Mike Frisch)


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