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High court publicly reprimands Madison attorney

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to publicly reprimand a Madison attorney for failing to return unearned fees and surrender a client’s file, among other misdeeds.

The disciplinary measure stemmed from an Office of Lawyer Regulation complaint filed last year against Michele Tjader, charging her with nine counts of misconduct.

The OLR had called for a 60-day suspension and for Tjader to pay restitution.

Tjader eventually filed a response admitting to three of the charges. Following further litigation, the OLR dismissed three of the other charges and decreased its request for discipline to a public reprimand.

A public reprimand does not involve a license suspension, but the court’s final decision will be made public.

The parties eventually reached an initial stipulation in which Tjader admitted to the remaining six counts and agreed to the public reprimand. Meanwhile, the OLR agreed to dismiss the three charges.

The referee in the case, Nicholas Schweitzer, issued a report in February adopting the disciplinary measures suggested by the parties. However, he also recommended that in order to continue practicing law, Tjader pay $34,500 back to her clients, return a client’s documents and send proof to the OLR, within 120 days of the court’s order, that she has taken the required steps. Schweitzer also said that, should she fail to comply, her license should be suspended indefinitely.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued an order in April instructing Schweitzer to order the parties to amend the stipulation so it dealt with restitution. The parties later amended their stipulation to indicate that the parties had agreed that no restitution was due. In a supplemental report filed in May, Schweitzer recommended that the amended stipulation be adopted.

The justices on Tuesday heeded Schweitzer’s recommendation to adopt the amended stipulation. They also ordered Tjader to pay $3,298.19, the cost of the proceedings by June 26, and to submit to the State Bar of Wisconsin’s fee-arbitration program any fee disputes with clients who were involved in the initial complaint.

However, not all the justices were in agreement on Tuesday. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, joined by Justice Shirley Abrahamson, wrote a dissent criticizing the majority for not following their own policies for progressive discipline. Walsh Bradley noted that Tjader had already been publicly reprimanded once in 2002 and privately reprimanded in 2006 and 2014.

More specifically, Walsh Bradley objected to the court’s reliance on the assurance that the OLR had considered Tjader’s history of discipline in recommending the public reprimand. Walsh Bradley noted that the occasion of one of the OLR’s previous public reprimands had been Tjader’s second conviction for drunken driving.

“I thought that we were long since past the time of addressing multiple OWI convictions (a criminal offense) by imposing merely a private reprimand,” Bradley wrote.

Bradley also had a couple of criticisms for the OLR. First, she objected to the agency’s argument that because Tjader’s previous disciplinary had involved violations of various rules, the court was under no obligation to impose tougher disciplinary measures. Second, she contended that the OLR had improperly given the victims of Tjader’s misconduct the burden of proving that misconduct.

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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