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Despite calls for reprimand, high court suspends Sheboygan lawyer’s license

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended a Sheboygan attorney’s license for 60 days, taking sterner disciplinary steps than the Office of Lawyer Regulation or a referee had recommended.

The discipline the court doled out on Dec. 21 stemmed from a complaint the OLR filed in 2015 against Robert Horsch. The OLR alleged he had committed three counts of misconduct, including failing to report two drunken-driving convictions to the agency.

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

Horsch, who is representing himself, has argued that disciplinary measures are not appropriate because he is no longer practicing law and is instead a stay-at-home dad. He has also contended that because his license had been administratively suspended since 2013, he is not a lawyer and therefore cannot be prosecuted by the OLR.

The referee in the case, Rick Esenberg, agreed in February with the OLR’s argument for a public reprimand and recommended that Horsch be given a chance to surrender his law license.

The court gave him that opportunity in May, but Horsch declined to file the paperwork to resign voluntarily from the bar and instead wanted to change his membership status to “inactive,’ meaning he does not practice law.

Because Horsch chose not to resign from the bar, the justices decided to place certain conditions, as laid out by the OLR, on Horsch should he choose to practice again.

However, instead of publicly reprimanding Horsch, the court used a per curiam decision issued on Dec. 21 to suspend his license for 60 days.  A public reprimand does not involve a ban on practicing law. The court’s decision is instead made public and mailed to the lawyer’s hometown newspaper.

The court called Horsch’s various drunken driving convictions “unquestionably a serious failing” that “evince an irresponsible attitude toward the law.”

However, the court noted that, in line with its previous decisions, it had chosen to suspend his license because of the scant evidence of sobriety Horsch had offered up.

“ … although Attorney Horsch states that he has remained sober since September 2014, there is no evidence in the record apart from his own self-serving statements that he is indeed maintaining sobriety,” the court wrote.

The justices also ordered Horsch to pay the full cost of the proceeding, which had hit $1,797.03 by February.

Justice Shirley Abrahamson concurred in part and dissented in part with the decision. She wrote that while she agreed with parts of the per curiam decision, she believed the 60-day suspension, in light of Horsch’s previous discipline, was an insufficient sanction.

Horsch was privately reprimanded in 2015 for a third drunken-driving conviction and practicing while his license was suspended for failing to pay both bar dues and Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments.

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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