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Home / Legal News / Madison lawyer who won landmark US high court case disbarred

Madison lawyer who won landmark US high court case disbarred

T. Christopher Kelly

A Madison attorney who argued a landmark sentencing guideline case before the U.S. Supreme Court had his Wisconsin law license revoked Wednesday.

T. Christopher Kelly was charged with 51 counts of misconduct by the state Office of Lawyer Regulation and was ordered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to pay $31,541.50 in restitution to former clients.

In its decision, the court noted that Kelly, a criminal defense attorney, had entered into flat fee agreements with 12 clients and then performed little or no work on their cases, but kept the money.

In its decision, the court justified the revocation by stating that the misconduct “was not an isolated or temporary occurrence.”

“We therefore conclude that the severe sanction of the revocation of his license to practice law in Wisconsin must be imposed,” the court wrote, “to protect the public from a repetition of this misconduct and to deter other attorneys from engaging in similar misconduct.”

Kelly graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1980 and was part of the legal team that successfully argued United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 5-4 decision struck down mandatory use of criminal sentencing guidelines in federal court are made them advisory.

But in 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended Kelly for failing to cooperate with an OLR investigation. His license remained suspended at the time of Wednesday’s revocation order.

In 2011, OLR filed a complaint against Kelly, alleging 51 counts of misconduct involving 12 clients, including 10 counts of failing to communicate with clients or their families on case.

In seven instances, according to the court decision, Kelly failed to return a portion of or the entire amount of advance fees collected from clients.

At the beginning of his representation, Kelly collected an advance fee in exchange for his promise to either to assess a convicted individual’s case for possible post-conviction or appellate challenges or to pursue either a post-conviction motion in the circuit court or an appeal, according to the court decision.

But in most cases, Kelly did little or no work for on the cases and routinely failed to respond to client inquiries, according to the court decision.

In accordance with Wisconsin Supreme Court rules, Kelly’s license is revoked for at least five years, after which time he can petition the court for reinstatement. The court then has the discretion to grant or deny the request.


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