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Referee recommends less discipline for Milwaukee attorney

A referee is recommending that a Milwaukee attorney be privately reprimanded for a third time instead of being publicly reprimanded.

The referee’s recommendation stems from a complaint the Office of Lawyer Regulation filed last year. The agency’s alleged that the criminal-defense attorney Christopher Hartley of Hartley & Pecora broke one attorney-ethics rule because he had failed to represent a client diligently and promptly in a post-conviction matter.

According to the allegations, Hartley took too long to file a post-conviction motion for relief and, at the hearing for that motion, failed to argue that the client’s counsel at trial had failed to interview more than a dozen witnesses who would have refuted testimony adverse to the client’s case.

The client’s convictions were later overturned because of ineffective assistance of counsel by his trial and appellate lawyers.

The OLR had sought a public reprimand for the conduct. Although a public reprimand does not involve a license suspension, the OLR makes the court’s disciplinary decision public and sends the decision to the lawyer’s hometown newspaper.

Hartley filed an answer last year to the OLR’s complaint, admitting to some of the OLR’s allegations and asking the court to dismiss the complaint. He is represented by Nate Cade of the Milwaukee firm Cade Law Group.

The referee in the case, Jim Mohr, held a hearing on the matter in June and filed a report on Oct. 12 recommending that Hartley be privately reprimanded, meaning the OLR would publish a summary of the court’s decision without any information identifying Hartley.

Mohr’s reasons for recommending the private reprimand included that Hartley’s actions did not involve theft, dishonesty, trust-account violations or criminal immoral conduct.

Mohr noted that his recommendation is in line with the American Bar Association’s standards for imposing discipline on lawyers. Those standards say a private reprimand is more appropriate when behavior that would warrant a public reprimand causes little or no possible injury to a client. He also acknowledged that Hartley had been privately reprimanded two times before.

“Although the Supreme Court often favors progressive discipline, I honestly do not believe the facts of this case warrant a public reprimand,” Mohr wrote.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will review Mohr’s findings and issue a final decision in the matter.

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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