Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion revokes lawyer’s license to practice and agrees with referee that he “failed to perform as a responsible attorney” in Bar discipline matter

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Supreme Court of Wisconsin opinion revoking a lawyer’s license for multiple Bar Rule violations and criticizing his pro se representation of himself in the disciplinary matter.  The opinion is In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Donald A. Hahnfeld, Case No. 2011AP1570-D (Wisc. Sup. Ct. 1/30/13), which is online at: http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=92284.

The opinion stated that the lawyer had a lengthy disciplinary history and summarized the lawyer’s misconduct as follows:  “(the lawyer’s) return to the disciplinary process on multiple occasions with the same problems indicated a failure to grasp or adhere to the standards that are required of attorneys practicing in this state and a lack of remorse for his prior ethical violations.  The lack of acceptance of responsibility and lack of remorse was also demonstrated (the lawyer’s) attempts to blame (the client) and his associate attorney for the delay in filing the new civil action.”

“(The lawyer) also claimed that (the client) was withholding documents from him because he delivered more than two boxes of file documents to (the client) upon termination of the representation.  The referee, however, found more credible the testimony of (the client) and his significant other that (the lawyer) had provided only two boxes of documents that purportedly represented the sum of (the lawyer’s) file on (the client’s) representation.

“We note that this is the fifth disciplinary proceeding against (the lawyer), and that he has now been disciplined for the same types of misconduct on multiple occasions.  He has therefore demonstrated that he is unable to conform his conduct to the rules of professional conduct for attorneys in this state.  As the referee noted, even when representing himself in this proceeding with his license status at issue, he failed to perform as a responsible attorney, ignoring the need to develop a defense substantiated by documentary evidence, to appear for court proceedings, and to file briefs, exhibit lists, etc., as requested by the referee.” 

“Moreover, of great importance to our determination is the referee’s finding that (the lawyer) took $58,000.00 of his client’s money and produced no benefit for the client.  Indeed, he converted $28,000 of his client’s money to his own personal uses without his client’s knowledge.  He has therefore demonstrated that he is not currently fit to hold a license to practice law in this state and to represent members of the public in important legal matters.”  The court revoked the lawyer’s license to practice in Wisconsin effective as of the date of the opinion and ordered him to pay costs and restitution.

Bottom line:  This case seems to be an apparent twist on an old cliché.  “A person who represents him or herself…”   You know the rest…

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670



About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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