Friday, June 26, 2020

Northern Exposure

The Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the denial of admission  to an applicant on character and fitness grounds as found by the Board of Bar Examiners

The Board's decision was based primarily on the fact that Mr. Hammer, who was a licensed Florida lawyer from 2006-2011, was disbarred in Florida for trust account violations and misappropriation of client funds.

Mr. Hammer resides in Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2005 and completed an LL.M. in Taxation in 2006. He was admitted to the Florida bar on May 19, 2006. From his admission in May 2006 until his law license was suspended on August 23, 2010, Mr. Hammer had what he describes as "an ill-advised solo practice" in Florida, built around a single client group: the family and friends of Paul Bilzerian and their companies.  As relevant here, in 2001, long before Mr. Hammer ever worked for the Bilzerian client group, a federal district court issued a sweeping injunction limiting Bilzerian's access to the courts, in an effort to stem Bilzerian's frivolous court filings (2001 Injunction).


We focus on the Board's primary reason for declining to certify Mr. Hammer. On August 23, 2010, four years after his admission to practice law, the Supreme Court of Florida issued an emergency suspension against Mr. Hammer's law license, alleging that he had misappropriated client trust funds. A formal disciplinary complaint followed. Eventually, Mr. Hammer stipulated that in November 2009, Bilzerian had directed that certain outstanding invoices and cost reimbursements not be paid to Mr. Hammer. Mr. Hammer believed these amounts were valid and owed to him. At the time, Mr. Hammer had access to funds in a trust account belonging to another Bilzerian-related entity. In January 2010, Mr. Hammer began taking money from that trust account for his own personal use. In May 2010, the client requested the money held in trust. By then, the trust fund was approximately $27,000 short of funds. To replace the missing client funds, Mr. Hammer accessed funds from another account to which he was a signatory, paying himself director fees and other amounts.

After the Florida disbarment

Eventually, Mr. Hammer distanced himself from the Bilzerian client group, started a business, regained financial stability, and became chief information officer of Elevant, an entity that licenses a case management software program.

He passed the Wisconsin bar exam in 2018 but

On September 19, 2019, the Board issued an adverse decision concluding that Mr. Hammer had failed to demonstrate to the Board's satisfaction that he has the necessary character and fitness to practice law in Wisconsin. The Board cited Mr. Hammer's Florida disbarment; abuse of process; extensive traffic record; and its conclusion that Mr. Hammer failed to demonstrate significant rehabilitation. The Board added that Mr. Hammer has not reapplied to the Florida bar.

His appeal raised a number of issues

We turn to Mr. Hammer's claim that the Board's adverse determination is a "mere pretext for unconstitutional discrimination against a resident of Florida." Mr. Hammer's effort to elevate his bar admission case to a constitutional challenge fails and is, moreover, constructed upon a faulty foundation. Mr. Hammer claims that he should have been offered conditional admission pursuant to SCR 40.075(1). In this, Mr. Hammer is incorrect. Conditional admission was not appropriate on this record. Only applicants who are able to meet character and fitness requirements are considered for conditional admission.

The key issue

We turn to Mr. Hammer's primary claim: that the Board's conclusion is inconsistent with this court's resolution of other bar admission cases.

...While we have, on occasion, overruled the Board and admitted certain applicants despite troubling past conduct, we conclude that Mr. Hammer cannot be admitted to their ranks. We acknowledge that a decade has passed since the misconduct culminating in Mr. Hammer's Florida disbarment and that Mr. Hammer cannot undo his past misconduct. This conundrum does not mean, however, that we are somehow compelled to offer him a law license. While the passage of time may aid a bar applicant's case, nothing in our prior bar admission cases should be construed to imply that an applicant enjoys a presumption of admission after some period of time has elapsed.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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