The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended the license of a Milwaukee trusts-and-estates attorney over misconduct that got him convicted of embezzlement.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation in 2016 charged Daniel Morse, a solo practitioner, with eight counts of misconduct involving work he did in Dodge County for the beneficiaries of an estate.
According to the allegations, Morse failed to have the beneficiaries sign a written fee agreement, failed to advance the interests of the beneficiaries and communicate with them and misappropriated more than $26,000 belonging to the estate.
The OLR sought a two-year suspension of Morse’s license.
But in the middle of disciplinary proceedings before the court-appointed referee Jim Mohr, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Morse, charging him with eight counts of embezzlement. Mohr decided to stay the proceedings in the disciplinary case until the criminal case could conclude.
In January 2018, Morse pleaded guilty to three counts of misdemeanor embezzlement, and, in April 2018, a judge sentenced him to a year of probation.
Mohr in May 2018 lifted the stay on the disciplinary case after the sentencing. The OLR and Morse shortly thereafter reached a stipulation in which the OLR dismissed two of the charges and Morse admitted to committing the four remaining charges. The parties also agreed that the only contested issue was what discipline ought to be imposed on Morse.
Mohr held an evidentiary hearing on that issue in July 2018.
The OLR sought a two-year license suspension. Morse, on the other hand, sought at least a public reprimand or, should Mohr believe that a license suspension was warranted, a 60-day suspension.
Mohr sided with the OLR in a report filed in September, recommending that Morse’s license be suspended for two years.
However, in a per curiam decision handed down on Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court instead suspended Morse’s license for one year.
A two-year suspension was excessive, according to the justices, because Mohr appeared to have given “undue weight” to Morse, as part of the plea deal Morse took in the criminal case, agreeing not to oppose the State’s request that Morse not practice law for two years as a condition of the sentence the judge imposed.
“However, acceding to Attorney Morse’s request for either a public reprimand or a 60-day suspension would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the misconduct at issue here,” wrote the justices. “It cannot be overstated that Attorney Morse converted estate funds to his own personal use, and his conduct resulted in a criminal conviction.”
The justices also ordered Morse to pay the OLR $11,038.85, which was the cost of the proceeding by Dec. 18.Follow @erikastrebel