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High court publicly reprimands Green Bay attorney, rebukes referee

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a former Green Bay attorney, while also taking to task the referee who presided over the disciplinary proceedings.

Tuesday’s disciplinary action stems from charges the Office of Lawyer Regulation filed against Tiffany Luther about two years ago. The OLR alleged 13 counts of misconduct, all of them connected with her involvement in a California debt-settlement company and her representation of two clients. At the time, Luther, who earned her degree from Marquette University Law School in 2000, was practicing in Green Bay. She now lives in Las Vegas.

The OLR had sought to have Luther’s license suspended for 18 months but later revised its complaint, dropping three of the most serious charges. Those charges concerned her involvement in Morgan Drexen, a debt-settlement company based in California. In 2013, Morgan Drexen was ordered to pay back millions to more than 1,000 Wisconsin residents.

Luther and the OLR reached a stipulation in May, and Luther agreed that she had committed the alleged misconduct. The OLR agreed to seek a private reprimand instead of an 18-month suspension of her law license.

Referee Jonathan Goodman accepted the stipulation in June, recommending that Luther be publicly reprimanded. He also later recommended that Luther pay the full cost of the proceeding.

The justices on Tuesday adopted his recommendations in a per curiam decision. However, they took Goodman to task for his reasons for accepting the stipulation reached by the parties.

The justices in September had asked Goodman to further explain his recommendations for discipline and costs. In that report filed in October, Goodman stated that a referee must accept an agreement between the parties unless the referee finds some factor that “shocks the conscience” and warrants discipline other than what the parties agreed on.

The justices on Tuesday took issue with that reason.

“No case is cited for this assertion, probably because there is none,” the justices wrote. “This is a misstatement of the applicable legal standard.”

The justices noted that neither referees nor the court must give stipulations any special treatment, pointing to its decision earlier this year to suspend the license of the Milwaukee-based lawyer for 15 months rather than adopt the one-year suspension the parties had stipulated to.

Instead, the court wrote Tuesday, referees must go about determining an appropriate disciplinary action as they would if there were not an agreement between the parties. Referees, the court stated, should do this by identifying and considering factors such a lawyer’s disciplinary history and the seriousness of any alleged misconduct.

“To be sure, the parties’ opinions on disciplinary sanctions are informative but they are just that — opinions, not authorities to which the referee must defer,” the justices wrote.

Justice Shirley Abrahamson was the lone justice to dissent from Tuesday’s decision. Although known for her frequent, often lengthy, opinions, her dissent this time consisted of one sentence stating that the private reprimand was an insufficient sanction for Luther’s misconduct.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley did not participate in the case.

Luther is represented by Dean Dietrich of RuderWare, Wausau. The OLR is represented by its assistant litigation counsel, Jonathan Hendrix.

About Erika Strebel,

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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