June 6, 2014
It’s been a while since I’ve had an opportunity to rant about Wisconsin’s so-called disciplinary system. New opportunities present itself today.
In each of four cases decided today, at least one justice suggests a review of the system. For example, in OLR v. Johns, CJ Abrahmson writes:
Because this case, along with two other pending cases and an open rules petition hearing and open rules petition conference, raise important concerns about the present lawyer regulatory system, I write stating the requests previously made for the court to initiate a study of the lawyer regulatory system. The lawyer regulatory system now in effect was instituted about 15 years ago. It is time to examine it to determine whether revisions are needed.
In OLR v. Krantz, Justice Prosser writes:
From time to time every government agency would benefit from an impartial, objective review of the agency’s practices and procedures. There is increasing evidence of the need for such an evaluation of the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR).
As one of the retained counsel for OLR, I could not agree more. However, it must be a better review than the one done fifteen years ago which solved problems which did not exist (e.g., not enough non-lawyer members of various boards) and created a more extensive bureaucracy which slowed down an already too-slow system.
The problems with our disciplinary system are three fold: First, it is way, way too slow in getting to final judgement. Much of this fault, if not most of it, is with the SC itself (hey, Justices, you have met the enemy…) as they can take forever to appoint referees and to reach decisions.
Second, the system is too inconsistent. As pointed out in prior blogs, we supposedly have a progressive disciplinary system where more severe punishment is meted out for subsequent transgressions. In practice, this is not the case. In fact, in one of the cases decided today, OLR v. Osicki the attorney received a 60 days suspension. However, he had been subject of three (count ’em) prior disciplinary proceedings, each involving multiple counts, including trust account violations. For all three prior cases, he got a public reprimand. Where’s the progression?
Third, the punishment meted out for major violations (e.g., anything involving trust accounts) is far too lenient. Take Mr. Osicki, for example. His 60 suspension is the result of two separate disciplinary proceedings, both decided today, which make a total of five times he has been found in violation. And that is not counting the individual rules he violated. Actually, I counted them – including the two cases decided today, he has been found guilty of violating 18 ethical counts over the years.
For this, he gets barely a slap on the wrist.
The problem is that our disciplinary system is a joke. Yes, a review is needed. Please make it a serious one.