Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion which suspended a Wisconsin lawyer for four months for, inter alia, bringing heavy toothbrushes to client in prison and failing to adequately communicate with a drunken driving client. The case is In the Matter of Steven Cohen, Case No.: 2015AP1350-D and the opinion is here: https://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=202686
According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1996. He received a private reprimand in 2007 after his conviction for one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct which resulted from an dispute involving the lawyer and his wife.
One count of the disciplinary complaint alleged that, in 2013, the lawyer smuggled two heavy toothbrushes and red pepper to a client who was in prison after being convicted on homicide charges. Prison authorities found the items in a search of the client after discovering a discarded white pastry bag containing a doughnut and an empty toothbrush package. The authorities also said that the toothbrushes were heavier than the toothbrushes given to inmates and could be made into shanks (sharpened weapons), and that the crushed red pepper could be made into pepper spray.
The opinion states that: “(w)hen correctional officers interviewed Attorney Cohen about the items, he denied knowing anything about them. Following additional investigation, Attorney Cohen was arrested for delivering contraband into the Columbia Correctional Institution. In February of 2014, the Columbia County district attorney filed a complaint charging Attorney Cohen with one felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate and one misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer.”
In November 2014, the lawyer pled no contest and was found guilty of a felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate, along with two misdemeanors. Judgment on the felony charge was deferred. The lawyer said that he brought the items to the prison after his client requested a toothbrush and some food and that his only motive was “from concern for the care of the inmate, and desire to serve.”
The second, third, and forth counts of the complaint alleged that the lawyer accepted a $2,500.00 fee from a DUI client without a written fee agreement and then failed to adequately communicate with the client. When the client demanded a refund, the lawyer returned half of the fee. He denied that he failed to communicate with the client, but did not provide any documentation to support the denial. The lawyer also claimed that he had e-mailed the client; however, the client said he did not have an e-mail address.
According to the opinion, the lawyer testified that he did not respond to the client’s telephone calls because he was not ready to speak with the client, which was “a normal trial tactic.” He also said he did not respond since he tells his clients to call him on his cell telephone rather than his land line, and the client called on his land line. He also claimed his secretary does not take messages on the land line.
The lawyer was suspended for 4 months effective December 29, 2017 and required to pay $8,608.20 in disciplinary costs.
Bottom line: This lawyer appears to have been attempting to provide an imprisoned client with the tools to injure other inmates, whether in self defense or otherwise. Obviously, this was improper and the lawyer was suspended for 4 months for those actions, as well as his failure to communicate with another client and charging an improper fee.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670