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High court dismisses misconduct charges against Milwaukee attorney

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//December 21, 2017//

High court dismisses misconduct charges against Milwaukee attorney

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//December 21, 2017//

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has dismissed a complaint the Office Lawyer of Regulation filed this year against a Milwaukee attorney.

The OLR had alleged in a complaint filed last year that Benjamin Harris had committed four counts of misconduct stemming from his handling of an Oconto County couple’s lawsuit against an investment adviser.

According to the allegations, Harris failed to provide competent representation, lied to clients, failed to hold advance fees in his trust account and paid himself without having done any work in the case.

The OLR had asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to suspend Harris’ license for six months.

However, the referee in the case, Richard Ninneman, recommended in May that Harris be privately reprimanded rather than suspended, that three of the four charges of misconduct be dismissed and that Harris be privately reprimanded for the remaining trust-account violation.

Ninneman also recommended that Harris pay for half of the cost of te disciplinary proceedings, which came to more than $8,000, plus $489.11 for costs related to Ninneman’s having to consider Harris’ objection to the OLR’s recommendation for costs that ought to be imposed.

But the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision issued Dec. 13, ordered the OLR’s complaint to be dismissed. “Apparent incongruities in the definitional and substance rules” related to the treatment of fees made it appropriate to find a violation under the facts of Harris’ case, according to the decision.

However, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, joined by Justice Shirley Abrahamson, wrote that she agreed with Ninneman that Harris had committed two counts of misconduct because he had failed to give his clients notice before withdrawing money from his clients’ trust account and would not have imposed any discipline for those violations.

She suggested, as she has had in the past, that the State Bar of Wisconsin or the OLR Procedure Review Committee examine the rules involving the treatment of fees.

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