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Lawyer hides in Madison to evade Illinois investigators

A lawyer could be in hot water in Wisconsin after trying to evade officials who were investigating misconduct that later led to him being barred from practicing in Illinois.

According to a complaint the Office of Lawyer Regulation filed April 1, John Peiss, a lawyer in Illinois, failed to tell the OLR that he had been disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court in September 2015. Supreme Court Rules of Attorney Professional Conduct require attorneys to report to the OLR any convictions or discipline imposed on them in other states.

The OLR is also asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to impose reciprocal discipline on Peiss for his disbarment in Illinois.

Peiss was admitted to practice in Wisconsin in 1982 and had been licensed to practice law in Illinois since 1992. The Illinois Supreme Court suspended his license in 2006 and required Peiss to apply for reinstatement. He never did, yet he continued practicing law, according to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission’s report recommending Peiss’ disbarment.

Peiss represented a homeowner in a foreclosure action and never told her or opposing counsel that he was not authorized to practice law, according to court documents. Opposing counsel later found out his license had been suspended and reported Peiss to the commission.

Also, Peiss converted client money for his own purposes, according to the commission’s report. Peiss, in 2009, took on a debt-collection case, helping a client negotiate with creditors to reduce his debts and preparing powers of attorney for his client. Peiss negotiated settlements with two of the creditors and had the client electronically transfer $3,739.50 to one of Peiss’ bank accounts so that the creditors could be paid. However, Peiss spent the money on personal and business expenses.

Peiss attempted to counter the commission’s initial complaint at a disciplinary hearing by contending that he had overcome an alcohol addiction and had remained sober for 22 years. He said he had also taken steps such as teaching yoga and mentoring people who are recovering from alcoholism.

Peiss attempted to appeal the commission’s findings to a review board, contending that he was not properly served. The board denied his request in April 2015, noting that commission investigators tried various times to serve him the initial complaint in Wisconsin.

Peiss, according to the board, told investigators he was in Madison, and they attempted to serve him using a process server in the area. The commission also sent an investigator to Madison to meet him, but Peiss never showed up, according to court documents. The process server found Peiss’ brother living in the area, but when commission investigators interviewed him, he said he did not know where Peiss was.

Peiss had practiced in the Chicago suburbs, according to court documents, although he does not have a permanent office or home address.

His address on file with the State Bar of Wisconsin is in Downers Grove, Ill., but he listed addresses in La Grange, Ill., and Naperville, Ill., in the Illinois disciplinary proceedings.

Peiss earned his law degree from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn.


About Erika Strebel, [email protected]

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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