The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily suspended the law license of Nikola Kostich, the court’s fourth sanction against the Milwaukee attorney.
State Supreme Court justices held that Kostich violated three rules of professional conduct: failing to communicate with a client, failing to respond to a client regarding fees and failing to timely withdraw representation.
The sanctions stem from Kostich’s representation of a client in a federal criminal case. According to the court’s opinion, Kostich became seriously ill in late 2008 and took a leave of absence until early February 2009. Kostich said he asked his daughter to notify clients who called his office that he would be away for several months.
One of Kostich’s clients tried to contact him during his absence. The client claimed no one from Kostich’s office responded to her, and that she was never made aware of Kostich’s illness. The client eventually sought a different attorney and partial reimbursement of a retainer fee. Kostich did not refund the fee, claiming he earned it.
The state Office of Lawyer Regulation filed a complaint against Kostich on Feb. 8, 2011. The complaint alleged three counts of misconduct. First, that Kostich violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3) and (4) by failing to respond to the client’s inquiries about her case. Second, that Kostich violated SCR 20:1.5(b)(3) because he did not reply to a letter and emails from the client concerning fees. And third, that Kostich violated SCR 20:1.16(a)(3) by failing to timely withdraw from representing the client.
The referee handling the OLR complaint recommended Kostich be suspended for 60 days and be ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary action – nearly $7,000. Kostich appealed, asserting OLR’s first and second counts were multiplicitous and that the suspension was a disproportionate sanction. Kostich instead asked the court for a fourth public reprimand.
The state Supreme Court rejected Kostich’s arguments and adopted the referee’s recommendations. In its opinion, the court noted that Kostich’s disciplinary history includes conduct similar to what triggered the latest sanctions. In 2005, Kostich was reprimanded for not responding to a client’s inquires and failing to refund advance payment of fees, among other charges.
Kostich also was reprimanded for misconduct on other grounds in 1986 and 2010.
Kostich conceded that the latest disciplinary action was largely preventable, testifying that he should have sent a letter to his clients notifying them he would be on medical leave.
“It would have been the best thing to do,” Kostich said.
The OLR argued in an appellate brief that had Kostich “shared information about his illness and his absence from the law practice with his clients, many of these problems might have been avoided.”
Justice David Prosser did not participate in the case.