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Attorney gets reprimand for letting son use trust account

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded attorney Richard Steffes of Beaver Dam.

Steffes has been practicing in the state since 1970. Thurday’s discipline stemmed from Steffes allowing his nonlawyer son, Gregory, to use his trust account, as well as failing to cooperate with the Office of Lawyer Regulation once a grievance was filed.

According to court documents, Gregory Steffes’s company, Steffes ICF Construction LLC, Waupun, was hired in 2003 to build an addition to a man’s home, but never completed the work. The man, who is referred to as R.W. in the justice’s opinion, then filed suit against the company in 2007, and Richard Steffes represented his son in court.

The parties in the lawsuit eventually stipulated to a $9,500 judgment against Steffes Construction, according to court records.

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During the course of litigation, it was discovered that checks R.W. had written to Gregory Steffes for the construction work had been deposited in his father’s trust account. R.W. subsequently reported Richard Steffes to the OLR in December 2008.

Richard Steffes then failed to cooperate with the OLR, according to Thursday’s opinion, and his license was suspended from Nov. 3, 2009, to Jan. 12, 2010.

In December 2009, Richard Steffes provided a preliminary response to R.W.’s OLR complaint, admitting he allowed his son to use his law firm trust account as a business checking account for Steffes Construction, and failed to notify R.W. or maintain a separate ledger for R.W.’s money.

Richard Steffes said he allowed his son to use the account because Gregory was having financial trouble.

When R.W. eventually disputed certain expenses Richard Steffes claimed were related to the incomplete construction project, the OLR subpoenaed bank records. The resulting audit showed that only $16,418.93 disbursed from the trust account was clearly attributable to the R.W. project, leaving a $10,809.57 discrepancy.

The OLR initially sought a two-year suspension and wanted Richard Steffes to pay $10,809.57 in restitution, but did not appeal when the referee recommended a public reprimand instead. The referee noted that the attorney did not personally benefit from his misconduct.

The justices declined to demand restitution, pointing to the fact that R.W. already obtained the $9,500 judgment in civil court.

And though the referee recommended two years of monitoring for Richard Steffes’ trust account, the OLR said six months was sufficient, and the justices agreed. The court also ordered the attorney to attend a trust account rules and compliance course.

Richard Steffes was further ordered to pay $7,805.09 for the cost of the proceedings.

As noted by the court, other than a brief administrative suspension several years ago for noncompliance with continuing legal education requirements, Steffes had no significant disciplinary history.


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