Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court
Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Kachinsky
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
State v. Cooper
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
Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Piontek
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
Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Honorable Frank M. Calvert
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
Sands v. Menard, Jr.
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
Moustakis v. Wisconsin Department of Justice
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
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Legal Ethics, Wisconsin Supreme Court
State v. Nielsen
While representing a criminal defendant on appeal, the Office of the State Public Defender was sanctioned by the court of appeals in a footnote after the court found that the appendix to the assistant state public defender's brief was deficient and the attorney's certification of the appendix was false in violation of Wis. Stat. 809.19(2)(a). The Public Defender objected to the summary procedure used by the court of appeals in finding a violation of Rule 809.19(2)(a) without giving notice to counsel and without giving counsel an opportunity to be heard in writing. On review, the Supreme Court suggested that hereafter when the court of appeals considers imposing a sanction in such a situation, an order to show cause should be issued directing counsel to explain why a violation of Rule 809.12(2)(a) and (b) should not be found and why the attorney should not pay a stated amount of money to the clerk of the court as a sanction. Remanded with instructions to modify the footnote. View "State v. Nielsen" on Justia Law
State v. Henley
After Dimitri Henley was convicted of five counts of second degree sexual assault, Henley made several attempts to seek a new trial. Henley also moved Justice Roggensack to recuse herself from the review of his case. Roggensack denied the motion. The current appeal involved a motion for reconsideration of the Supreme Court's decision reversing the circuit court's order granting Henley a new trial. Henley argued that by denying him a new trial and by providing no court procedures for reviewing Justice Roggensack's decision not to recuse, the Court denied Henley's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court held (1) the motion for reconsideration met none of the criteria for granting a motion for reconsideration and was therefore denied; (2) determining whether to recuse is the sole responsibility of the individual justice for whom disqualification from participation is sought; (3) a majority of the Court does not have the power to disqualify a judicial peer from performing the constitutional functions of a Supreme Court justice on a case-by-case basis; and (4) Henley received due process.
Polsky v. Virnich
Court-appointed receiver Michael Polsky filed a complaint against defendants Daniel Virnich and Jack Moores, owners and officers of Communications Products, for breach of their fiduciary duties to the corporation after Communications Products defaulted on a loan to its largest creditor. The Supreme Court accepted review but split three to three. On return to the court of appeals, the judgment was reversed. Polsky filed a petition to review, which the Supreme Court granted. The Court then affirmed the court of appeals. The current action involved Polsky's motion to disqualify Justice Roggensack, asserting that because Justice Roggensack had not participated in the case when it was previously certified to the Court and when the Court's decision remanded the matter to the court of appeals, she should have been disqualified from participation in the decision to affirm the court of appeals. The Supreme Court denied Polsky's motion, holding (1) the Court does not have the power to remove a justice from participating in an individual proceeding, on a case-by-case basis, and (2) due process is provided by the decisions of the individual justices who participate in the cases presented to the court.
Foley-Ciccantelli, et al. v. Bishop’s Grove Condominium Assoc., Inc
Plaintiffs filed a personal injury slip-and-fall action against defendants and defendants moved to disqualify plaintiffs' attorney. At issue was whether defendants had standing to bring a motion to disqualify plaintiffs' attorney where plaintiffs' attorney's law firm had previously represented defendants' exclusive property manager. Also at issue was whether the circuit court erred as a matter of law in applying an "appearance of impropriety" standard in deciding the motion for disqualification. The court held that defendants had standing to move to disqualify opposing counsel where defendants have shown that plaintiffs' attorney's prior representation was so connected with the current litigation that the prior representation was likely to affect the just and lawful determination of defendants' position. The court also held that the circuit court incorrectly applied the standard of law and should have determined the motion for disqualification based on an attorney's duty to a former client in SCR 20:1.9. Accordingly, the court reversed the order of the circuit court and remanded for further proceedings.
Posted in: Injury Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, Real Estate & Property Law, Wisconsin Supreme Court