Wussy Discipline and Perception of Attorneys

By Attorney Gregg Herman
February 21, 2013

The Wisconsin Supreme Court was kind enough today to provide me with another opportunity to rant about the wussy discipline meted out to lawyers who violate ethical rules in this state.  This time, however, there are two justices who agree with me, at least in this case.

In Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against John R. Dade, 2012AP2318-D, the court suspended Attorney Dade’s license for 60 days for, essentially, lack of diligence in representing a client in a divorce action.  While the allegations are not the most serious in the world, Attorney Dade has been disciplined on four (count ’em, four) prior occasions.

In 1991 and in 2007, he received public reprimands.  In a second disciplinary action in 2007, he was suspended for 60 days.  In 2012, he received his third public reprimand.  All of the violations were for the same type of conduct: lack of diligence, failure to communicate with a client and failure to cooperate with OLR.

The instant case is similar to the previous ones:  He failed to respond to a client’s calls and file necessary documents which resulted in a divorce case being dismissed.  While these allegations are certainly less heinous than, say trust account violations, the sheer number of violations make a 60 days suspension, well, wussy.

Amazingly, there is a dissent in a disciplinary case.  Even more amazingly, the dissent is by the court’s two most liberal judges, Chief Justice Abrahamson and Justice Bradley who state:

¶22  This stipulation is not in keeping with the concepts of progressive discipline or with assisting Attorney Dade in changing his behavior to protect the public.

While they do not specify the discipline they would impose, the concept is an appropriate one:  If an attorney consistently exhibits an inability to practice law according to the ethical rules, the discipline imposed should reflect the ongoing problem.

If the legal system cannot police itself, is it any wonder lawyers have such little respect by the public?

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.