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Appleton attorney faces year-long suspension

An Appleton attorney who faces a year-long suspension of his law license is admitting that he committed some of the misconduct lawyer-regulators have charged him with.

The Office of Lawyer Regulation filed a complaint on Dec. 20 against Ryan Thompson, alleging 16 counts of misconduct stemming from matters involving two clients who had hired him to represent them that Thompson had worked for as general counsel.

Two of the 16 charges of misconduct stem from a client who hired Thompson in October 2014 to represent her in an employment law matter and paid him a $1,000 advanced fee, according to the complaint. The client later decided, after meeting with Thompson, not to pursue the matter. Yet he refused to refund the unearned part of the advanced fee she had paid him, the OLR alleges.

The client filed a grievance against him, prompting the OLR to start an investigation. When Thompson failed to respond to the agency’s requests for information, the Wisconsin Supreme Court to suspend his license.

Six of the charges stem from another client, this time one who had hired Thompson in November 2014 to represent her in a retaliation and discrimination case.

The OLR alleges, among other things, that Thompson had failed to refund the unearned part of the $2,500 advanced fee the client had paid him, failed to tell her about the status of her case and to respond to her requests for information, and failed to tell her that his license had been suspended in 2016 for failing to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation of the grievance filed with the first client.

Three other charges stem from a client who had hired Thompson in June 2015 to represent him in a civil matter filed in Outagamie County and who had paid Thompson a $2,500 advanced fee. The OLR alleges that Thompson failed to provide an accurate account of how he had spent that fee, failed to refund the unearned part of the fee after Thompson had ended his representation of the client and failed to respond to the OLR when it attempted to investigate the grievance the client later filed.

The remaining charges stem from allegations that Thompson had practiced law while his license had been suspended in 2016 for failing to cooperate with the OLR’s investigation of the grievance filed by the client with the discrimination case. Thompson, the OLR alleges, continued to practice law and put himself out to the public as a lawyer by continuing to work as general counsel for Little Chute-based Heartland Business Systems.

Thompson, reached Wednesday, declined to comment on the complaint. However, he did file an answer on Tuesday in which he denied committing four of the 16 rule-violations alleged by the OLR, most of them having to do with the client who had hired him for the retaliation and discrimination case.

Thompson contended in the filing that his license should be suspended for no more than 6 months and that the suspension should be retroactive, starting from the date that he was terminated from Heartland. Lawyers who are suspended for longer than 6 months must, during a hearing, offer up evidence that they are fit to be reinstated to practice.

Thompson earned his law degree in 2006 from Hamline University School of Law, and his license remains suspended, according to the State Bar and OLR websites.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will appoint a referee to preside over the case and make findings of fact, conclusions of law and a recommendation for discipline. Thompson would have a right to appeal, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court will review the referee’s decision and issue a final decision in the matter.

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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