Friday, August 23, 2019

The Crime And The Coverup

Revocation and restitution has been imposed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court for an attorney's client-related misconduct and false statements in the ensuing bar investigation

The referee observes that what is disturbing about this matter is not simply the exceedingly careless trust accounting, but the "way in which Attorney Vaitys seemed to regard a vulnerable client as a 'cash cow'——someone whose settlement funds could be used for legal fees without regard to whether the legal services were worth it." The referee cites several cases in support of his conclusion that revocation is appropriate here, despite Attorney Vaitys' lack of prior professional discipline.

The principal victim

The first 12 counts of the OLR's disciplinary complaint arise from Attorney Vaitys' representation of T.A. T.A. is an individual with a "wide range of cognitive and comprehension difficulties, including difficulty reading and/or understanding written information." In February 2012, T.A. hired Attorney Vaitys and Attorney Thomas Napierala, a lawyer with another firm, to set aside a mediation agreement and settlement that T.A. had entered in a Milwaukee County Circuit Court case involving the estate of T.J.  If they succeeded in setting aside the settlement, the two lawyers would then commence litigation to establish that T.A. was entitled to inherit the T.J. estate. If not, they intended to appeal and, perhaps, seek review in this court. The legal work was to be paid from settlement funds that T.A. had received from the T.J. estate (the Probate Award). Work commenced in February of 2012, but no written fee agreement was signed until November 2012.

A settlement with the estate was reached but

Essentially, Attorney Vaitys improperly took a substantial portion of T.A.'s funds and kept T.A. in the dark about the balance of funds held by Attorney Vaitys and the charges against them.

When the bar opened an investigation

During the investigation, Attorney Vaitys represented to the OLR that billing statements were supported by contemporaneously created ledgers that he claimed to have gone
over with T.A. on a monthly basis. Attorney Vaitys later admitted that these statements and ledgers were fabricated to conceal his misuse of T.A.'s funds.

Attorney Vaitys also misrepresented the terms of the fee agreement, falsely stating that it provided for up to $43,000 in fees and costs for appellate work, and falsely claiming that he obtained T.A.'s authorization for every disbursement when he had not.

In addition, during the investigation, Attorney Vaitys procured an affidavit from Attorney Napierala stating that certain funds were not converted because he and Attorney Vaitys had an agreement by which Attorney Vaitys was authorized to offset these amounts against amounts owed to him by Attorney Napierala. However, Attorney Napierala later told the OLR that while there was such an agreement, it did not exist between  November 2012 and May 2014 when the funds at issue were converted.

(Mike Frisch)

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