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High court publicly reprimands Milwaukee attorney

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a Milwaukee lawyer for improperly billing a client.

The disciplinary action on Thursday stems from a complaint the Office of Lawyer Regulation filed last year against Thomas Napierala. The agency alleged that he had violated three attorney-ethics rules stemming from his dealing with a client who had hired Napierala, along with another lawyer, to challenge an estate matter in Milwaukee County. The client also hired Napierala for legal advice in other matters.

The OLR alleged that Napierala billed the client for thousands of dollars that were not reasonably billable to Napierala and that were not owed. Also, Napierala did not explain that he would be charging for work done by his staff, according to the OLR.

The OLR sought a public reprimand of Napierala, who initially denied the allegations last year.

In March, Napierala, represented by Michael Crooks of von Briesen & Roper’s Madison office, withdrew his answer to the complaint and reached a stipulation with the OLR in which he pleaded no contest to the three charges of misconduct and agreed to the public reprimand. They also agreed that the client was owed more than $15,000 in restitution.

The court-appointed referee in the case, Kim Peterson, filed a report in July recommending that the justices adopt the stipulation, order Napierala to pay restitution and publicly reprimand him. Napierala did not challenge Peterson’s recommendations, according to court records.

The justices on Thursday agreed with those recommendations, publicly reprimanding Napierala and ordering him to pay more than $15,000 worth of restitution to the client and to pay the OLR more than $1,600 worth of the costs of the proceeding.

While a public reprimand does not ban lawyers from practicing, the justices’ decision in the case is published on the state court system’s website, as well as the OLR’s, and will be sent to Napierala’s hometown newspaper.

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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