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High court revokes license of Milwaukee lawyer who treated clients like ‘cash cow’

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has revoked the license of a Milwaukee lawyer who, according to a court-appointed referee, treated his clients like a “cash cow.”

In revoking Thomas Vaitys’ license on Thursday, the court also ordered Vaitys to pay one former client $69,867.46, another former client $100 and the lawyer Thomas Napierala $2,130.05. Vaitys had asked the court to revoke his license after the Office of Lawyer Regulation filed a complaint accusing him of 19 counts of misconduct arising primarily from his representation of a single client in a Milwaukee County estate matter. Vaitys’ client, according to the OLR, had cognitive and comprehension difficulties.

Vaitys, among other things, fabricated records to hide that he had misused money that was supposed to be held in trust, failed to file briefs in a timely manner to the state Court of Appeals and failed to explain in writing the reasons for his fee and the scope of his representation, according to the OLR’s allegations.

Vaitys, who is represented by the Brookfield attorney Michael Torphy, later admitted to some of the allegations in the complaint, noting that he had dissolved his law firm and now lives in California, where he runs a family business.

In September, Vaitys filed a petition seeking voluntary revocation of his license, telling the court that not only is he unable to defend himself from the 19 allegations in the OLR’s complaint, but that he also cannot defend himself against allegations stemming from two pending formal OLR investigations.

The OLR supported Vaitys’ petition.

The referee in the case, Rick Esenberg, issued a report Jan. 8 recommending that the Wisconsin Supreme Court accept Vaitys’ request for his license to be revoked.

“What is disturbing about this matter is not simply the sloppy trust accounting but the way in which Attorney Vaitys seemed to regard a vulnerable client as a ‘cash cow’ — someone whose settlement funds could be used for legal fees without regard to whether the legal fees were worth it,” Esenberg wrote.

Although Vaitys has not previously been disciplined, Esenberg wrote disciplinary action was warranted in this instance because of “the combination of recklessness, cupidity and deception.”


About Dan Shaw, dshaw@wislawjournal.com

Dan Shaw is the managing editor at the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at dshaw@wislawjournal.com or at 414-225-1807.

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