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State Supreme Court suspends former New Berlin mayor’s law license

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//May 17, 2016//

State Supreme Court suspends former New Berlin mayor’s law license

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//May 17, 2016//

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended the license of a former New Berlin mayor and real estate developer for mishandling thousands of dollars of client money.

Tuesday’s discipline stems from a complaint filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation in August 2013 alleging James Gatzke had committed 22 counts of misconduct involving, among other things, mishandling and misappropriating money a client and business partner paid him.

The client, Patricia Schaeffer, received more than $2.5 million in life insurance policies after the death of her husband, who was under investigation for stealing from his business partner. She was also Gatzke’s business partner for several real estate ventures.

The OLR’s complaint asked the high court to suspend Gatzke’s license for three years and order him to pay more than $300,000 in restitution to Schaeffer and her daughter. The complaint was later amended twice to allege 45 counts of misconduct.

However, a court-appointed referee agreed with the OLR’s recommendations for restitution but suggested that the justices impose tougher discipline by revoking Gatzke’s license.

Gatzke appealed, admitting that he made mistakes in bookkeeping and handling his trust account, but that those mistakes were largely technical. He also contended that if Schaeffer or any other client had lost money in their dealings with him, it was because of the risk inherent to the real estate investments they had made.

The justices on Tuesday did not take the referee’s advice and suspended Gatzke’s license for three years, citing his lack of disciplinary history. They also ordered him to pay more than $550,000 to a client and her daughter, and to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceeding, or $56,879.77. Also, if he chooses to apply for reinstatement, Gatzke will have to submit to trust account monitoring for three years.

Justice Michael Gableman concurred on Tuesday with the majority’s decision to suspend Gatzke’s license for three years, ordering Gatzke to pay costs and to undergo trust account monitoring.

However, he took issue with the part of the opinion ordering Gatzke to pay restitution. That, Gableman wrote, should be taken up in a civil action. Justice Rebecca Bradley joined Gableman’s concurrence.

Gatzke served as New Berlin’s mayor between 1997 and 2001.

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