Friday, December 15, 2017
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ordered a one-year suspension of an attorney who misrepresented the terms of a plea agreement to his client and then told an elaborate series of lies to the client and a tribunal
The referee's May 8, 2017 report and recommendation found that the OLR met its burden of proof with respect to all nine counts of misconduct set forth above. In discussing the appropriate level of discipline, the referee noted a number of aggravating factors. The referee said Attorney Petersen did not engage in a single lie to his client but instead told multiple lies and fabricated documents to conceal those lies. The referee also noted the nature of the misconduct and Attorney Petersen's attempt to shift the blame to R.F., his client's father. In addition, the referee pointed out that K.F. was incarcerated and had placed his trust in Attorney Petersen, who repeatedly told him that the felony charges would be amended. The referee also pointed out that Attorney Petersen was criminally charged and convicted of the misdemeanor offense of contempt of court.
With respect to mitigating factors, the referee pointed out that Attorney Petersen has no prior disciplinary record. The referee noted that at the sentencing hearing in the
misdemeanor case, Attorney Petersen's counsel indicated that Attorney Petersen had a difficult childhood as the child of alcoholic parents, with a resulting psychological or psychiatric factor at play. While Attorney Petersen sought psychological treatment after the police became involved in the matter, the referee noted there is no proof in the disciplinary case that a medical condition was causal of the misconduct.
The referee said that a final mitigating factor to be considered is the imposition of other sanctions or penalties. Attorney Petersen was sentenced to one year of probation
conditioned on 30 days in jail with Huber privileges, with 25 of those days stayed. Attorney Petersen was also ordered to refund the $5,000 fee to R.F., and Attorney Petersen was required to provide a copy of the criminal complaint to every client he dealt with in the next year, along with a letter stating:
I am a crook. I am a cheat. I am a thief. I am a liar. I was convicted of a crime on November 9th, 2015. My conviction resulted from my intentional choice to sell my own clients down the river and then trying to cover it up. You may not hire me or have me legally represent you in any fashion until you read the Criminal Complaint and Judgment of Conviction in my Outagamie County Wisconsin Case no. 15-CM878. This disclosure is required as one of the conditions of my probation.
The court adopted the proposed sanction.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented
Attorney Petersen's misconduct was egregious. He repeatedly lied to his client about the terms of the State's plea offer. He told his client that certain charges would be amended when Attorney Petersen knew this was untrue. He then falsified an email purportedly written by an Assistant District Attorney in furtherance of the lies and falsely reported that the judge agreed with the amended charges.
It gets worse. Attorney Petersen apparently forged a judge's signature on a fabricated court order, lied to the court and to the police, all the while continuing the lies to his client.
Given the nature and extent of Attorney Petersen's misconduct, I conclude that the one-year suspension imposed by the per curiam opinion is too light.
Justice Abrahamson joined the dissent. (Mike Frisch)