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Court suspends Green Bay lawyer’s license for 55 misconduct counts

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended a Green Bay lawyer’s license for two years and six months for neglecting her clients.

Tina Dahle’s license was already suspended on April 24, 2012, for failing to cooperate with the Office of Lawyer Regulation’s investigation into several grievances that were then detailed in a complaint released the following year.

Dahle could not be immediately reached Wednesday.

Wednesday’s discipline stems from a May 2013 complaint that accused Dahle of 50 counts of misconduct. The complaint was amended three times, the last of which was filed June 4, adding five more counts of misconduct. That action brought the total to 55 counts of misconduct related to nine clients Dahle had represented.

“The undisputed facts,” according to the court’s opinion, “show a clear pattern of neglect by Attorney Dahle of her clients’ needs and objectives and disregard of her obligations as an attorney.”

The misconduct detailed in the 233 paragraphs of the complaint and amended complaints noted how Dahle failed to appear in court several times, failed to take action before the statute of limitations expired and missed filing deadlines for briefs. She also borrowed or took about $400,000 from clients, and abandoned her law practice abruptly in 2012, according to the opinion.

The OLR had originally asked the court to suspend Dahle’s license for three years and pay $11,919.23 in restitution to her clients, Laurie Gleason and James Brick. The OLR had also asked that Dahle pay judgments against her in two Brown County Circuit Court cases, John Stephan Pfeifer, Jr., v. Tina Dahle and Pfeifer v. Dahle, et al, as well as one federal court case, Jane Kelley vs. Tina Dahle, et al.

Dahle eventually admitted to all 55 counts of misconduct but objected to paying restitution. She also filed for bankruptcy.

The OLR later withdrew its request for restitution because two of the clients who were to receive the money were also creditors of Dahle. The OLR reasoned that ordering restitution could affect Dahle’s rights in a future proceeding, such as an application for reinstatement.

“The question is,” according to the court’s opinion, “whether a lawyer can trump this court’s ability to order restitution in the context of a disciplinary proceeding by filing bankruptcy when the lawyer’s misconduct involved conversion of client funds.”

Ultimately, the court did not order Dahle to pay restitution but wrote it would revisit these two questions before allowing any reinstatement of her license:

1) Whether ordering restitution is consistent with federal and state law when the subject of that restitution has been discharged in bankruptcy; and

2) whether restitution should be a condition of reinstatement.

The court suspended Dahle’s license for less than the OLR requested, noting that she had no history of professional misconduct and eventually cooperated with the OLR’s investigation.

The justices also ordered Dahle to pay the full cost of the proceedings.

Dahle can apply for reinstatement three months before expiration of the suspension.

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