Embattled Elm Grove lawyer Mark Phillips was publicly reprimanded Thursday by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the third professional-discipline sanction against the attorney since 2006.
The court also ordered Phillips to complete 20 hours of continuing legal education, and pay restitution and the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation filed a two-count complaint against Phillips in December 2011. The complaint alleged Phillips charged an unreasonable fee in violation of former SCR 20:1.5(a), and that he did not refund unearned fees in violation of former SCR 20:1.16(d). Phillips did not answer OLR’s complaint.
The state Supreme Court suspended Phillips’ law license for one year in 2006 for improperly taking a loan from a client, dishonest conduct and failing to pay taxes, among other charges. In 2007, Phillips’ law license was suspended for an additional three years after he was convicted of attempted federal income tax evasion. He was sentenced to five months in prison on that charge.
The state Department of Financial Institutions has also barred Phillips from selling securities.
Phillips’ law license remains suspended.
According to the OLR complaint, a client seeking a divorce retained Phillips to represent her in 2002. The client’s father paid a $1,500 retainer fee, and Phillips also received $200 in hourly earnings.
Phillips billed the client $450 for three hours of work – at $150 per hour – and $200 for a title insurance report. He sent the client a statement purportedly showing a $1,050 credit balance.
When the client decided not to pursue the divorce, Phillips stopped work on the case.
The client later sought reimbursement of the unused retainer and, according to OLR, tried to contact Phillips without success.
The OLR wrote to Phillips in a 2009 letter and told him court rules prohibited lawyers from billing clients against a retainer. The OLR also said in the letter that non-refundable retainers must be reasonable.
Phillips responded to OLR’s letter and claimed he never received the client’s requests for a refund. He wrote that the billing statements he sent were “simply meant to indicate to the client that no further retainer amount was due.” The retainer fee, Phillips asserted, was “earned when received.”
In his response to the OLR, Philips referred to the client and her father as “miscreants.”
The Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection in 2009 approved a claim by the client’s mother for $1,050 – the same amount of the unused retainer fee.
The appointed referee overseeing the case recommended the same sanctions the court imposed Thursday.
Phillips did not appeal those recommendations.