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Milwaukee criminal-defense attorney hit with more misconduct charges

A Milwaukee criminal-defense attorney who’s already defending himself against several allegations of attorney-ethics violations is facing additional misconduct charges that could lead to a six-month license suspension.

According to an Office of Lawyer Regulation complaint filed on Monday, Peter Kovac broke five attorney-ethics rules stemming from two client matters.

Three of the alleged rule-violations involved a defendant in a Milwaukee County criminal case. The defendant is alleged to have paid Kovac, in May 2015, more than $1,000 to represent him in a post-conviction matter. Kovac failed to have the client sign a written fee agreement laying out the terms and scope of Kovac’s representation, the OLR alleges.

State attorney-ethics rules require lawyers to have their clients sign a written fee agreement for matters in which representation will cost more than $1,000.

Also, when the State Public Defender’s Office appointed a lawyer, Urszula Tempska, to represent the client in September 2016, Kovac refused to turn over the client’s complete file to Tempska. Part of the file was later supplied by the court but was missing discovery materials. Kovac, the OLR alleges, refused to turn those materials over.

About three months later, the client filed a grievance against Kovac. And when the OLR asked Kovac to respond to the complaint, Kovac only responded after the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in November 2016, temporarily suspended his license. He failed to respond to the OLR again in February 2017, and the court eventually suspended Kovac’s license again in December.

The remaining two charges involve a criminal defendant who had hired Kovac in October 2014 to represent him in two Milwaukee County criminal cases. The charges in one of the cases were eventually dismissed; Kovac represented the client through the sentencing hearing in the remaining case.

The client started post-conviction litigation pro se, and Kovac refused to give the client the case file, according to the complaint.

In July 2016, the client filed a grievance with the OLR against Kovac. Kovac willfully failed to answer the OLR’s requests for him to respond to the grievance, according to the complaint.

For more than a year, the OLR attempted to get a response from Kovac, who would either say that he would respond or needed more time to respond. In December, the high court temporarily suspended Kovac’s license at the OLR’s request, and Kovac provided a response.

The OLR is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to suspend Kovac’s license for six months.

Kovac, reached on Thursday, declined to comment about the complaint.

Monday’s charges come as Kovac is defending himself from misconduct charges filed in late 2016, less than a year after the justices had banned him from practicing law for 90 days for misconduct that included failing to turn over a client’s file to successor counsel, ignoring a client and collecting a fee without having done any work on behalf of a client.

In that case, the OLR is asking the justices to suspend Kovac’s license for four months. Kovac, who is representing himself, has admitted to some of the allegations but is contending that the OLR failed to take into account his health troubles and lack of support staff. A hearing in the case has been set for Nov. 12, according to court records.

Kovac, who earned his degree from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, has been licensed to practice in Wisconsin since 1973.

In addition to suspending Kovac’s license in 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him in 2008 and 2012.

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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