Wisconsin Lenient on Attorney Discipline

By Attorney Gregg Herman
April 4, 2012

Is any other state’s discipline is as lenient as that of Wisconsin?

That question now has an answer:  Yes, at least in the case of Illinois.  Although, that does not forgive Wisconsin.

Today, two related disciplinary cases were issued by our Supreme Court: In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stephan Walter Addison and In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Benjamin C. Butler

The discipline is based on criminal convictions.  Attorney Butler was initially charged with three criminal offenses in Wisconsin:  First-degree sexual assault, as party to a crime; false imprisonment; and misdemeanor battery.  State v. Butler, Green Lake County Case No. 05CF91.  In an apparent plea bargain, he plead no contest to one count of felony second-degree reckless endangerment.

Attorney Addison was initially charge with five criminal offenses: Three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of fourth-degree sexual assault, and one count of false imprisonment.  State v. Addison, Green Lake County Case No. 05CF90.  Again, in an apparent plea bargain, he pled no contest to three counts:  one felony count of second-degree reckless endangerment and two misdemeanor counts of sexual gratification in public.

Amazingly, the Illinois disciplinary commission determined that felony conduct warranted only a 60 day suspension for Addison and 30 days for Butler.

Our Supreme Court simply joined the Illinois commission, finding:

¶24 “In a reciprocal discipline matter our rules require us to impose the identical discipline rendered by the other jurisdiction unless one of the three listed exceptions applies.  Keeping in mind that the OLR has not asserted that Attorney Addison’s conduct requires a substantially different level of discipline in this state, see SCR 22.22(3)(c), we do not find that any exception applies.”

Justice Roggensack, joined by Justice Crooks, stating:

¶33  “In my view, a conviction based conduct that creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of great bodily harm when the defendant is aware of that risk is at least as serious as the crimes that form the bases for the suspensions above.  Because I conclude that the convictions at issue here would justify substantially different discipline in Wisconsin than has resulted in Illinois and that SCR 22.22(3)(c) requires this court to reject the parties’ stipulation on that basis, I respectfully dissent.”

(Justice Bradley did not participate in either decision for reasons which were not explained)

So, I have following comments:

  1. Wisconsin is not the only state light on discipline in serious matters.  I stand corrected.
  2. This does not get Wisconsin off the hook as it could have differentiated our discipline from that of Illinois.
  3. Thank you to Justices Roggensack and Crooks for pointing that out.

Disclaimer:  I am retained as counsel for OLR in individual cases from time-to-time, but I had no role in either of these cases.

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman, LLC in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.