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Justices suspend former Stoughton lawyer’s license

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a former Stoughton lawyer’s license to practice law for 90 days.

James Hammis graduated from Marquette University Law School. He has been licensed to practice law in Wisconsin since 1988. According to court documents, Hammis practiced primarily in Stoughton but is now in the construction trades.

Tuesday’s discipline stems from incidents that occurred while Hammis was the president and operator of ST&E Fabrication Inc. in Ohio. On behalf of the company, he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. In a related but separate case, Hammis in 2005 was convicted of reckless endangering, a first-degree misdemeanor under Ohio law.

An OLR complaint filed April 18, 2012, alleged nine counts of misconduct and that the 2005 misdemeanor conviction was a poor reflection on Hammis’ fitness as a lawyer. The complaint also alleged that Hammis failed to notify the OLR and clerk of the Wisconsin Supreme Court about his Ohio conviction, and he violated state Supreme Court rules by failing to pay the costs ordered by the court in Ohio.

The misconduct allegations stem from Hammis’ representation of a client referred to in court documents as I.B., who had been found guilty of two counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and one count of causing injury while operating under the influence. I.B., an inmate, contacted Hammis in May 2010 regarding pursuing a motion to reduce his sentence.

I.B. signed a contract, which required a $2,000 advance fee, with Hammis. I.B. paid $995 and his mother paid $400 toward the fee, but I.B. later wrote to Hammis that he was unable to pay it, wanted a refund and wanted the documents he’d sent regarding his sentence returned. Hammis failed to respond to the letter and return the materials.

When I.B.’s mother died in Sept. 14, 2010, Hammis paid $400 from his business account toward funeral expenses, according to court documents.

According to court documents, Hammis appealed a referee’s recommendation that his license to practice law in Wisconsin be suspended for 120 days. He argued that the referee’s facts were wrong and that the discipline recommended by the referee was too harsh, according to court documents.

Hammis could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

The OLR had asked for a 90-day suspension, which the justices granted.

The justices also agreed with the OLR’s request that Hammis pay $995 in restitution to I.B. and pay the full cost of the proceedings. As of Dec. 2, that was $12,022.38.

In 2011, the Supreme Court suspended Hammis’ license to practice law for four months for 10 counts of misconduct, including practicing law while administratively suspended and failing to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation.

The OLR filed another complaint, which is pending, against Hammis on Sept. 25. The complaint alleges 46 counts of misconduct, including failing to file cases and ignoring clients.

About Erika Strebel,

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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