Lawyer Suspended – For 45 Violations

By Attorney Gregg Herman
May 18, 2016

If a lay person were asked what would happen to a lawyer who committed 45 (count ’em) violations of ethical rules, the answer would be a quizzical look.  Of course, that lawyer would be disbarred.

Yet if a lawyer from Wisconsin who is familiar with the joke that passes for a disciplinary system was asked, the answer would be “a slap on the hand.  If that.”

In a decision yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ignored the recommendation of a referee (“We appointed you, but we will ignore you”) that the license of James Gatzke be revoked and instead ordered a three year suspension.

In the event anyone thinks these were minor violations, here is just part of the SC summary of the referee’s findings:

The referee found that the OLR had met its burden of proof with r
espect to all 45 counts of misconduct alleged in the second amended complaint. The referee concluded that revocation of Attorney Gatzke’s license to practice law was warranted because the misconduct was serious and there was a clear need to impress upon him the seriousness of his misconduct and to protect the public. The referee found that Attorney Gatzke converted a significant amount of funds belonging to multiple clients over a period of years. The referee said Attorney Gatzke claimed ignorance of trust account rules, but ignorance of an attorney’s duties as a trustee of client funds is not a defense.
And, in the event anyone thinks that the amount involved was trivial, the SC ordered restitution of $551,000.
Usually when the court discipline is even more lenient than usual, Justices Abrahamson and A. Bradley dissent.  Not in this case.  The decision was unanimous.
Oh, except that Justices Gableman and R. Bradley dissented regarding the restitution.  Amazingly for two justices normally on the conservative side, they would not order restitution, but would require the victims to incur the costs, time and inconvenience of a separate civil law suit.
Perhaps what is even more amazing than the decision is the lack of reaction from anyone – the press, the public, politicians or lawyers – regarding this decision.  Or many more like them.
Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.