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Gun incident puts Portage attorney’s license at risk

A Portage attorney faces a 60-day license suspension over allegations that he mishandled client money and punched a person and pointed a gun at him.

A complaint filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation on Dec. 21 alleges that Steven Sarbacker committed six counts of misconduct. Five of the counts stem from a Poynette couple that hired Sarbacker, a criminal defense lawyer, to collect a $5,441 money judgment owed to them in a small-claims case.

According to the OLR, Sarbacker failed to have the couple sign a written fee agreement even though he knew the work would cost more than $1,000.

Also, the OLR alleges that Sarbacker succeeded in getting the couple’s money garnished from the defendant’s wages and agreed to send the couple the remaining money after he had collected $2,032.73 in fees and costs.

However, Sarbacker continued depositing the garnishments into his trust and law office operating accounts after he had collected the fees and costs, according to the complaint. In all, Sarbacker received 49 garnishment checks totaling $4,204.02.

When the couple demanded he return their portion of the judgement money, he did not respond. Months passed before he sent the couple a $2,171.29 cashier’s check.

The remaining count of misconduct stems from three criminal misdemeanor charges filed against Sarbacker in March after he was alleged to have walked toward a man with a shot gun and threatened and punched him. One charge was dismissed in May, and Sarbacker pleaded no contest to the other two and entered a deferred prosecution agreement requiring him to avoid criminal conduct and complete an anger-management program at the VA Hospital in Middleton.

The OLR is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to suspend Sarbacker’s license for 60 days.

Sarbacker could not be immediately reached.

He earned his degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1995. The high court has privately reprimanded him twice, once in 2013 for a misdemeanor drunken-driving conviction and again last year for failing to follow a court order.

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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