A Milwaukee attorney faces a six-month suspension of his law license for alleged misconduct over his handling of an Oconto County couple’s lawsuit against an investment adviser.
According to an Office of Lawyer Regulation complaint filed on Sept. 23, Benjamin Harris committed four counts of misconduct while representing the couple, who were Harris’ long-time friends. The couple had sued their insurance adviser after finding reason to believe the adviser had sold them an investment product without disclosing that there would be charges for early withdrawals.
According to the OLR, Harris filed the suit in Oconto County Circuit Court in April 2011 without first researching the financial contract the couple had signed. The contract required the couple to resolve any disputes through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s dispute-resolution procedures.
The first suit was dismissed with prejudice. Harris nonetheless filed it again three years later.
Harris also misled the couple about when he had served the defendants with the lawsuit. He sent them a letter in May 2011 stating that he had already filed and served the first suit. In fact, though, he didn’t end up serving the defendants in the case until July, according to the OLR.
Harris also failed to hold client money in trust, according to the complaint. The couple had paid him a $5,000 advanced fee in 2010, when they had decided to pursue the lawsuit in state court rather than make a complaint to a state agency.
Rather than wait for his work on the case to be completed, Harris paid himself half of that fee the day after it had been deposited into his trust account, according to the OLR. This he did without telling the couple, according to the complaint.
The OLR is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to suspend Harris’ license for six months.
Harris, reached Thursday, declined to comment about the complaint.
Harris, a 1996 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, has had five previous run-ins with the OLR. The Wisconsin Supreme Court privately reprimanded him in 2007 and 2012, and publicly reprimanded him in 2008. His license was suspended for 60 days in 2010 for failing to keep clients informed about his work on their behalf and failing to attend hearings.
The justices suspended Harris’ license again in 2013, this time for five months.He had been accused of misconduct ranging from failing to file a judgement for divorce to lying to a client about the status of a case and failing to let clients know his license had been suspended.
Harris’ license is now active and in good standing, according to the OLR and state bar websites. He used to operate Harris Law Offices in Milwaukee. Follow @erikastrebel