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High court reprimands Fond du Lac attorney

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a Fond du Lac attorney over ten counts of misconduct.

Friday’s discipline stems from a complaint filed by the OLR last year alleging that Philip Shepherd had, among other things, practiced law while his license was suspended, mishandled fees and failed to enter into a written fee agreement with a client.

The OLR had asked that the high court publicly reprimand Shepherd and that he pay $622.50 in restitution to a client and $1,000 to the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client protection.

Shepherd, who represented himself in his discipline case, only contested the OLR’s proposed disciplinary action. He contended that he intended to leave the practice of law and that the misconduct stemmed from his struggle with depression, so a public reprimand served no purpose.

But the appointed referee in the case, Reserve Judge John Murphy, disagreed with Shepherd, noting that the only way to guarantee that Shepherd would leave the practice of law would be if he surrendered his license. Murphy also found that Shepherd’s depression did not explain why Shepherd hadn’t entered into a written fee agreement, hadn’t used his trust account for fee deposits and had not immediately returned unearned fees.

Shepherd had tried to appeal the referee’s report, but the justices rejected that attempt and instead allowed him to file a petition for the voluntary surrender of his law license. He filed it on May 30. The OLR asked that the disciplinary matter be decided before considering the petition.

The high court agreed with the referee in Friday’s per curiam decision, publicly reprimanding Shepherd and ordering him to pay the restitution requested by the OLR. It also ordered him to pay for the disciplinary proceeding and granted his request to voluntarily resign his law license.

The justices noted that Murphy had correctly rejected Shepherd’s promise to resign his law license in exchange for a private reprimand and had concerns that Shepherd was trying to “use restitution as a bargaining chip to obtain a lesser sanction.”

Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley dissented from Friday’s decision, contending that the court’s case law prohibits it from accepting voluntary resignations from the bar while a disciplinary case is pending against a lawyer. Rather, Abrahamson noted, the court should have allowed him to seek the voluntary revocation of his law 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, lawyers who voluntarily resign their licenses may “unresign” but there is no clear procedure that the OLR, attorney and court must follow in such cases.

This is not the first time Abrahamson has dissented on those grounds; she argued the same point in dissenting from a court’s order on May 15 in a separate disciplinary case of a former lawyer out of Sheboygan.

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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