Justia Wisconsin Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the circuit court's denial of Father's motion for reconsideration of the circuit court's ruling in favor of Mother in a custody dispute, holding that the "extreme" facts of this case rebutted the presumption of judicial impartiality and established a due process violation. The circuit court judge accepted Mother's Facebook "friend request" after a contested hearing but before rendering a decision. During the twenty-five days between the judge's acceptance of Mother's friend request and his issuance of a written decision entirely in her favor, Mother engaged with and reacted to at least twenty of the judge's Facebook posts. Mother further "shared" and "liked" several third-party posts related to an issue that was contested at the hearing. After discovering the Facebook friendship and communications, which the judge never disclosed, Father moved the circuit court for reconsideration, requesting judicial disqualification and a new hearing. The judge denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case with directions that the court proceed before a different circuit court judge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circumstances and facts of this case rose to the level of a serious risk of actual bias, which rebutted the presumption of the judge's impartiality. View "Miller v. Carroll" on Justia Law

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In this judicial disciplinary proceeding, the Supreme Court adopted a Judicial Conduct Panel's findings of fact, agreed that those facts demonstrated that Honorable Kenneth W. Gorski, a part-time commissioner for the Wood County circuit court, committed judicial misconduct, and publicly reprimanded Commissioner Gorski for that misconduct. After adopting the panel's findings of fact the Supreme Court agreed with the panel's conclusion that those factual findings demonstrated that Commissioner Gorski willfully violated specified provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, thereby committing judicial misconduct. The Court then held that a sanction was necessary to impress upon Commissioner Gorski the damage that such conduct does to the judicial system and the rule of law and ordered that Commissioner Gorski be publicly reprimanded for judicial misconduct. View "Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Gorski" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Supreme Court held that the judicial misconduct of the Honorable Leonard D. Kachinsky, a former municipal judge for the Village of Fox Crossing Municipal Court, warranted a three-year suspension of eligibility for the position of reserve municipal judge and ordered that Kachinsky petition to the Supreme Court and successfully demonstrate that he is fit to serve as a reserve municipal judge before he may request an appointment to serve as a reserve municipal judge. The Judicial Commission filed a formal complaint against Judge Kachinsky alleging multiple violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct in his interactions with M.B. Following an evidentiary hearing, a panel of the court of appeals issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation regarding discipline. The Supreme Court agreed with the Judicial Conduct Panel that, in light of the fact that Judge Kachinsky is no longer an active municipal court judge, an appropriate form of discipline for his misconduct is to suspend his eligibility to serve as a reserve municipal judge. The Court then imposed its sentence, holding that Judge Kachinsky currently lacked the judicial temperament and insight into his actions that are required for a judge to preside over and manage a court. View "Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Kachinsky" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, holding that the disciplining of Defendant's attorney for professional misconduct that included his handling of Defendant's defense did not prove that counsel had provided ineffective assistance. Defendant pleaded guilty to a single count of armed robbery as a party to a crime. Before sentencing, Defendant asked to withdraw his plea due to ineffective assistance of counsel. The circuit court denied the motion. While Defendant's appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided a disciplinary case brought against Defendant's counsel and disciplined the attorney for professional misconduct. On appeal, Defendant argued that his attorney's discipline for his misconduct in handling Defendant's defense is proof to establish the deficiency of his counsel. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the record did not demonstrate that the professional misconduct of Defendant's attorney prevented Defendant from receiving effective assistance of counsel, and therefore, the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in denying Defendant's motion. View "State v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ordered that Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Piontek be suspended from the office of circuit judge without compensation and prohibited from exercising any of the powers or duties of a Wisconsin circuit judge, for a period of five days, holding that suspension was warranted. The Judicial Commission filed a complaint against Judge Piontek alleging that he had engaged in judicial misconduct by his actions in presiding over two different criminal matters. The Judicial Conduct Panel recommended that the Supreme Court suspend Judge Piontek between five and fifteen days. The Supreme Court found that suspension was warranted and that a five-day suspension was appropriate. View "Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Piontek" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Supreme Court ordered that the Honorable Frank M. Calvert be suspended from the office of circuit court commissioner without compensation and prohibited from exercising any of the powers or duties of a circuit court commission in Wisconsin for a period of fifteen days due to Commissioner Calvert’s judicial misconduct. The Wisconsin Judicial Commission filed a complaint against Commissioner Calvert alleged that he had engaged in judicial misconduct in presiding over an action seeking a harassment injunction. The Judicial Conduct Panel made conclusions of law and recommended that the Supreme Court suspend Commissioner Calvert for no more than fifteen days. The Supreme Court adopted the panel’s undisputed findings and conclusions of law and agreed that a fifteen-day suspension was in order. View "Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Honorable Frank M. Calvert" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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Debra Sands appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Menard, Inc. Sands and John Menard, Jr., were involved in a romantic relationship from late 1997 to April 2006. Sands alleged that from 1998 until 2006 she cohabitated with Menard and they engaged in a "joint enterprise" to work together and grow Menard's businesses for their mutual benefit. Menard and his affiliated entities argued that by failing to comply with Supreme Court Rule 20:1.8(a), which regulated business transactions between lawyers and their clients, Sands was precluded from seeking an ownership interest in any of Menard's various business ventures. As to the claim she characterized as a “Watts” unjust enrichment claim, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded Sands failed to allege facts which, if true, would support her legal conclusion that she and Menard had a joint enterprise that included accumulation of assets in which both she and Menard expected to share equally. Furthermore, the Court held SCR 20:1.8(a) could guide courts in determining required standards of care generally; however, it could not be used as an absolute defense to a civil claim involving an attorney. Finally, the Court concluded the court of appeals properly granted summary judgment to Sands on Menard, Inc.'s counterclaim for breach of fiduciary duty, and to the Trustees on their motion for summary judgment dismissing Sands' claim. View "Sands v. Menard, Jr." on Justia Law

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The circuit court dismissed an action brought by Vilas County District Attorney Albert Moustakis who sought to restrain the Wisconsin Department of Justice from releasing records pertaining to Moustakis in response to a public records request by The Lakeland Times, a newspaper located in Minocqua. The request sought records of any "complaints or investigations regarding Vilas County District Attorney Al Moustakis" and records "regarding any investigation of [Moustakis's] conduct or handling of cases while district attorney." The request also sought "information related to complaints and investigations regarding Mr. Moustakis that were completed or ended without any action taken against him[,]" as well as "any communications between Mr. Moustakis and [Department of Justice] since he took office in 1995." The court of appeals affirmed the order of the circuit court. Finding no error in the circuit or appellate courts' decisions, the Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Moustakis v. Wisconsin Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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A referee recommended that Attorney Sommers' license to practice law be suspended for 60 days for professional misconduct. He did not appeal. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the misconduct warrants public discipline, but deemed a public reprimand sufficient and imposed the full costs on Attorney Sommers, which total $5,033.16. Sommers was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1992. His Wisconsin law license is currently suspended for nonpayment of State Bar dues and for noncompliance with continuing legal education requirements. Sommers was previously suspended for 30 days as discipline based on a related matter: allegations relating to improper ex parte communications, press releases, and other statements involving the judiciary. View "Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Sommers" on Justia Law

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Although Michael Mandelman entered into a stipulation with the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), under which he pled no contest to 22 counts of misconduct and agreed that his license to practice law in Wisconsin should be revoked, he appealed from the report and recommendation of the referee, which was based on that stipulation. The court stated that “Essentially, he seeks ... to comment on certain characterizations and findings by the referee and to provide additional support for the referee's recommendation to make his revocation effective as of the date of his prior suspension, May 29, 2009. The court accepted the referee's factual findings and legal conclusions and agreed that the 22 counts of misconduct support the revocation of Mandelman's license to practice law effective as of the effective date of his prior suspension. Because the record was not sufficient to award restitution to any particular person, the court directed Mandelman to work with the OLR and his former colleague to determine who is owed money from trust accounts utilized by Mandelman and in what amounts. Because Mandelman litigated the matter vigorously prior to entering into the stipulation, the court ordered him to pay the full costs of the proceeding, which were $16,943.16. View "Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Mandelman" on Justia Law