State justices on Tuesday publicly reprimanded a Milwaukee criminal defense attorney who had sexual relations with a client he later married.
Mark Ruppelt represented “T.W.” as a victim and as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Jason Crary, a teacher who sexually assaulted the client at Heritage Christian School, according to the court’s per curiam decision. The victim hired Ruppelt in 2007.
In 2009, while the criminal and civil cases were pending, the pair began a sexual relationship. At the time, Ruppelt was a partner with James Gatzke at Gatzke & Ruppelt SC, Waukesha. When other attorneys at the firm found out about the situation, according to the court’s decision, Ruppelt lied and told them he no longer communicated with T.W.
Later, he denied to Gatzke that he was still with T.W., though eventually he acknowledged they were still together, according to the decision.
Ruppelt and T.W. married in 2010.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation started investigating in 2009 and filed its complaint in 2012, alleging Ruppelt began engaging in sexual relations with the client while he was representing her, and provided false information to his firm and the OLR regarding the two’s relationship.
Crary wound up serving a four year-prison sentence for assaulting T.W. and was released from supervision in 2013. While Ruppelt’s client’s name is public record, the Wisconsin Law Journal is not naming her because she is a victim of sexual assault.
Ruppelt pleaded no contest to the OLR’s three counts of misconduct and he and the OLR agreed on a public reprimand. A majority of the justices also agreed and imposed the reprimand.
The court declined, however, to impose the full costs of the proceeding, which totaled $18,443.05. Instead, it ordered Ruppelt to pay half of that.
It noted in its opinion that a referee in the case pointed out that OLR’s counsel billed 241.5 hours for a case that was likely to end in a public reprimand.
Tuesday’s ruling is the first public reprimand for Ruppelt, who graduated from Marquette University Law School in 1994. He did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday, and neither did his attorney, Terry Johnson of Peterson, Johnson & Murray SC, Milwaukee.
According to the court’s opinion, when the OLR reached out regarding its investigation, Ruppelt lied and said Gatzke was handling T.W.’s case, and that he only “filled in when needed.”
Gatzke, Ruppelt’s former law partner and a former New Berlin mayor, also is the subject of an unrelated OLR investigation. He allegedly misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars of client money, and the OLR is asking the state Supreme Court to revoke his law license.
In a dissent Tuesday, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote that Ruppelt’s punishment “should be more than a public reprimand” and he should pay the full costs of the proceeding.Follow @eheisigWLJ