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Brookfield attorney seeks license resignation (UPDATE)

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//September 28, 2011//

Brookfield attorney seeks license resignation (UPDATE)

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//September 28, 2011//

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A Brookfield attorney facing felony fraud charges wants to surrender his law license in Wisconsin.

Thomas Bielinski, 52, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Milwaukee County to stealing more than $500,000 through a fraudulent foreclosure scheme. He faces up to five years in prison and $25,000 in fines if convicted.

According to the State Bar of Wisconsin’s website, Bielinski’s status is “resignation pending.” Tom Solberg, the bar’s public information officer, said the organization received a letter of resignation from Bielinski and reflected the request on the website, but the Supreme Court must grant final approval of the request.

Neither Bielinski nor his lawyer, Michael Hart of Kohler & Hart SC, Milwaukee, would comment after the arraignment Wednesday.

Supreme Court rules require that the court, prior to accepting an attorney’s resignation, check with the Office of Lawyer Regulation to make sure there are no pending complaints. An official complaint and investigation would supersede the resignation.

The result of an OLR investigation could result in disciplinary action, which could include license revocation. A revocation of an attorney’s license would present a stronger roadblock than voluntary resignation to potential reinstatement.

OLR grievances are confidential until a formal complaint is filed with the office. According to a staff member at OLR, as of Wednesday Bielinski was still in good standing and a full member of the bar. But OLR director Keith Sellen said even if an attorney voluntarily surrenders a license and avoids sanctions in the short term, the attorney eventually could face discipline because there is a 10-year statute of limitations to file a grievance.

The discipline could be waiting if the attorney files for reinstatement during that period.

“If a lawyer committed an act while licensed, we could assert jurisdiction,” Sellen said.

Bielinski allegedly stole $542,231.61 in unclaimed foreclosure money by falsely representing himself since 2007 as the attorney for the proper claimants.

According to the criminal complaint filed Aug. 23 by Milwaukee County assistant district attorney Kurt Benkley, Bielinski targeted mortgage-foreclosure cases in which there was surplus money from sheriff’s sales.

If the winning bids for foreclosed property are more than what is owed to the creditor, the difference goes into a trust and can be claimed by the owner of the property when it went into foreclosure, said Debbie Bachun, fiscal and operations manager for the Milwaukee County Clerk of Courts office.

At least six owners of foreclosed properties were entitled to surplus money held in trust by the clerk’s office, but they had never filed a claim, according to the complaint. Bielinski purported to represent the owners and claimed the money, according to the complaint.

An Oct. 19 scheduling conference is scheduled to set dates for a jury trial.

During his alleged criminal activity, Bielinski had no legitimate law practice, according to the complaint. His fraud scheme, which involved identity theft, false notarizations, forgeries and thefts, was his primary source of income, according to the complaint.

Bielinski graduated from Marquette University Law School in 1985.

Benkley’s complaint states that in forging signatures authorizing power of attorney, Bielinski “duped judges into signing orders to payout the surplus finds.”

Prior to seizing Bielinski’s computer, authorities asked whether it contained any privileged attorney-client information. Bielinski said he had no law clients, according to the complaint.

Historically, an attorney who voluntarily ceases to practice without a pending complaint only would need to file for reinstatement with the Supreme Court, as opposed to petitioning to get a license back after suspension.

But for serious charges, such as those pending against Bielinski, Sellen said there is no advantage to voluntarily resigning from the bar, instead of facing potential discipline such as a consensual revocation.

“From the lawyer’s perspective, if an attorney has got serious criminal charges pending, the least of their worries is a law license,” he said. “But the lawyer has an obligation to report a conviction.”

Sellen said his office has never had a case in which an attorney voluntarily resigned and then applied for reinstatement after a criminal conviction.

But even an attorneys acquitted of serious charges likely would have an uphill battle to persuade the court to let them practice law again.

“It’s probably not going to work,” Sellen said. “Ours is a middle ground burden of proof, and I don’t think an acquittal will matter.”

More on the Bielinski case

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