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High court suspends lawyer for forging judge’s signature

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended the license of an Appleton lawyer who fabricated a court order and forged a judge’s signature on it.

The Office of Lawyer Regulation in March charged Michael Petersen with nine counts of misconduct stemming from his representation of a defendant in two criminal cases.

The allegations include that Petersen lied to the client about the terms of a plea deal reached with a prosecutor, fabricated emails over five months to support that lie, fabricated a court order, forged a judge’s signature on that order and lied to a judge.

Based on the conduct in that case, Petersen was later charged with and pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of contempt of court in 2015. He was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail conditioned on 30 days in jail with work-release privileges, ordered to refund the $5,000 fee the client paid and provide a copy of the criminal complaint and a letter about it to potential clients.

After Petersen filed an answer to the complaint, the OLR and Petersen reached a stipulation in October in which he admitted to the facts alleged in the OLR’s complaint and agreed to a one-year license suspension.

The referee in the case, William Eich, accepted the stipulation and agreed that the suspension was appropriate, noting that one of the mitigating factors that weighed in favor of it was the imposition of other sanctions, including that the judge in Petersen’s contempt-of-court case ordered him to, among other things, show the following letter to potential clients:

“I am a crook. I am a cheat. I am a thief. I am a liar. I was convicted of a crime on November 9th, 2015. My conviction resulted from my intentional choice to sell my own clients down the river and then trying to cover it up. You may not hire me or have me legally represent you in any fashion until you read the Criminal Complaint and Judgment of Conviction in my Outagamie County Wisconsin Case no. 15-CM878. This disclosure is required as one of the conditions of my probation.”

In a per curiam decision issued Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with Eich and suspended Petersen’s license for one year. The suspension is effective Jan. 26

However, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley disagreed, writing in a dissenting opinion that the year-long suspension was too light. She was joined by Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

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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