By Todd Richmond
MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s attorney for two months over a series of ethics violations tied largely to an attempt to help a client recover money spent on fake John Lennon memorabilia.
The justices also ordered Gerald Boyle to take courses in law office management and to pay $24,900 to cover the costs of the disciplinary proceedings against him.
Boyle rose to prominence in southeastern Wisconsin law circles after he defended Dahmer. The serial killer was sentenced to life in prison after confessing to 17 murders. Another inmate killed Dahmer in 1994. Boyle also gained fame for defending former Green Bay Packers star Mark Chmura against sexual assault charges. Chmura was ultimately acquitted in 2001.
Boyle didn’t immediately return a voicemail left Wednesday at his Milwaukee office.
According to court documents, the state Office of Lawyer Regulation brought six misconduct counts against Boyle last year. Five counts were connected to a man who paid out-of-state galleries tens of thousands of dollars for a microphone Lennon had used and sketches the Beatles front man had drawn.
The man, identified only as D.P. in the documents, hired Boyle to represent him in efforts to recover his money after he learned the memorabilia was fake.
Boyle improperly deposited $65,000 in advance fees from D.P. in his office’s operational account rather than in a client trust fund, according to court documents. The attorney also failed to prepare written fee agreements or explain in writing the basis for the fees.
D.P. informed Boyle in 2010 that the statute of limitations on some of his claims was about to run out. Boyle filed a federal lawsuit against a single gallery the day before the deadline but only gave minimal responses to D.P. when he inquired about the case. Boyle also cancelled meetings with D.P. and failed to return many of his phone calls. Boyle’s staff also never filed a key subpoena per Boyle’s instructions, according to the documents.
D.P. eventually settled his claims against all the galleries using a different lawyer.
The sixth count involves a Boyle client identified as R.G. That client paid Boyle $19,000 in advance fees but Boyle deposited the money in his firm’s operating account rather than a trust account.
A referee recommended that the Supreme Court suspend Boyle’s law license for 60 days. The referee noted that Boyle was reprimanded three times between 2002 and 2012 for failing to act diligently in representing a criminal defendant; failing to take action on cases his associates neglected; and failing to prepare a written fee agreement.
Boyle acknowledged in briefs that he failed to explain his fees in writing. He argued, though, that D.P.’s requests for information on the subpoena were infrequent, the OLR had to show that D.P. would have prevailed against the galleries to prove Boyle did anything wrong; and he couldn’t advance D.P.’s claims because they were borderline frivolous. He also told the Supreme Court during oral arguments on his discipline in October he deserved only a reprimand.
The justices rejected his arguments, voting 7-1 Wednesday to adopt the referee’s recommendation and suspend Boyle’s license. The majority wrote that the referee’s findings clearly show Boyle had a dismissive attitude about D.P.’s case, the standard of proof in a lawyer misconduct case are different than what Boyle contends and if Boyle thought the case was frivolous he should have told D.P.