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Former ethics board member suspended for 3 years

A Greenfield attorney with decades of experience in legal ethics has been suspended for three years for multiple counts of misconduct including client trust account violations.

Attorney John J. Carter has been licensed in Wisconsin for 40 years, served on the Milwaukee County Ethics Board for 28 years, on a committee for the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility for 20 years and as a special investigator for the Office of Lawyer Regulation for four years, according to the state Supreme Court’s opinion.

Carter pleaded no contest to seven counts of misconduct for misdeeds, all which stemmed from his representation of a now-deceased client, N.N., including failing to enter into a written fee agreement, failing to respond, converting trust funds for his own purposes and pretending he had invested money on the client’s behalf.

An OLR review led to four other counts of misconduct, for misdeeds such as channeling client money through his own accounts and failing to maintain trust account records, according to court documents.

Noting it was “a close call” on whether they should have revoked his license, the justices instead opted for the suspension Friday, pointing to Carter’s “solid reputation” and lack of previous disciplinary history in his decades-long career.

“This is an unfortunate case involving anomalous behavior from an otherwise ethical lawyer,” the justices wrote, “and we do not relish deciding it.”

The court ordered Carter to pay the costs of the proceedings, which totaled $6,680.62 as of Sept. 24.

According to the court, Carter represented N.N. in the sale of her business. In answer to N.N.’s repeated requests for her money, Carter lied for months, telling her he had placed the money in various short-term investment instruments which had not yet matured.

During a hearing on the misconduct allegations, Carter admitted using the money to “relieve significant financial pressures caused by a failed business investment,” according to the court’s opinion. He admitted converting at least $32,400 of N.N.’s money to himself and another $39,600 for “third-party purposes.”

Carter asked for a public reprimand or a suspension of less than six months, claiming his misconduct caused the client no monetary loss. But the justices disagreed, writing, “His conduct was reckless and highly unprofessional” and “involved much more than simple negligence.”

Carter could not immediately be reached for comment.

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