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High court gives former attorney chance to surrender license

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is giving a former Sheboygan lawyer a chance to voluntarily surrender his law license before deciding whether to discipline him for alleged misconduct.

The case stems from an Office of Lawyer Regulation complaint filed in 2015 against Robert Horsch, alleging three counts of misconduct, including that Horsch failed to report two drunken-driving convictions to the OLR.

The OLR had asked the high court to privately reprimand Horsch and require him to participate in drug-abuse and mental-health assessments, submit to drug monitoring for two years, and abstain from alcohol and drugs while being monitored.

A referee recommended in February that the court privately reprimand Horsch and give him a chance to resign from the bar.

Horsch has argued that discipline is not appropriate because he is no longer practicing law and is instead a stay-at-home dad.

The high court on Monday issued an order giving Horsch 20 days to voluntarily resign from the bar. Should he choose to surrender his license, the court stated that it would consider his voluntary resignation along with the pending disciplinary proceeding. Should Horsch not file a petition to voluntarily give up his license, the court stated it would go forward with reviewing the referee’s report and recommendation.

However, Justice Shirley Abrahamson, joined by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, dissented from Monday’s order, writing that the order should also have asked the OLR to weigh in.

Abrahamson also wrote that she would have issued an order letting Horsch and the OLR reach a stipulation over the violation and a voluntary revocation of Horsch’s license.

She noted that the court’s precedent does not allow it to grant petitions to voluntarily resign from the bar when a disciplinary proceeding is pending in order to avoid discipline. The court’s rules instead allow lawyers to file a petition stating that they cannot defend against the OLR’s charges and that they seek a voluntary revocation of their license.

Voluntary revocation bans lawyers from practicing but allows them to seek reinstatement after five years, a process that involves an investigation. On the other hand, Abrahamson noted, lawyers who voluntarily resign their license may “unresign” but there is no procedure the OLR, attorney and court must follow.

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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