The Milwaukee lawyer Robert Menard said suspending his license for at least a year would be fair punishment for mismanaging his clients’ money. Menard, who billed himself as a lawyer for the “average Joe,” is accused of stealing $700,000 from his former law partner, his uncle and his clients.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney Office charged Menard in July with 14 felonies related to theft, forgery and misconduct. The Office of Lawyer Regulation threatened to disbar him after receiving complaints and held a hearing regarding his misconduct in August. Transcripts from the hearing were filed in October.
The transcripts say Menard admitted to using clients’ settlements to pay other clients and expenses. A former trust-account administrator for the OLR testified that she had met with Menard’s former business partner, Alan Derzon, when the two were in the midst of breaking up their firm. Derzon said he discovered there was only $50 in the firm’s trust account, even though it owed clients as much as $500,000.
As she started investigating, the trust administrator said she found records that misuses of such money had happened repeatedly. She said Menard had hefty expenses for billboards and other advertising, plus needed money to pay back other clients.
The prosecutor asked Menard about “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“The only time that I ever take the clients’ money to do what you’re alleging as this Peter to pay Paul is when they bring me a check under a worker-comp system,” said Menard.
He said he would put the money in a business account to make it easier to get cash and wire money to clients. He also said he used the business account instead of a trust account so the OLR wouldn’t be notified when it made an overdraft, which he said was common. Regarding clients’ money, Menard said “the only time that I would give them is if they would ask for it.”
Menard’s uncle, Philip Menard, also testified at the OLR hearing. Menard had previously settled a lawsuit with his uncle, who had accused him of embezzling a $500,000 settlement. The transcripts say Menard testified that he had spent the settlement money two years before his uncle started asking him when he’d receive his payment.
“I’ve known him all his life,” said Philip Menard. “I’ve been to his children’s football games, soccer matches, high school graduations, college graduations for some, and so we’ve done things together as a family. We’ve been to his brother’s funeral, his father’s funeral. That’s the hurtful part of it. There’s been a wedge driven between the family.”
Menard said he didn’t think his license should be revoked.
“All my life, this is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Menard. “I help people. All I’ve ever done is try to do the best interest of my clients and help them out.”
When asked whether his license should be suspended, Menard said he thinks it should be for at least a year to send a message that co-mingling funds is inappropriate.
“I’m not making any excuses on the way that I handled my business,” said Menard. “It was sloppy. I’ve never had a client say that I stole money from them. In 30 years, I’ve never had a complaint from a client that said you didn’t pay a medical bill, you didn’t pay something, until this whole thing with my ex-partner started to go public.”
Documents are due December in the OLR’s case against Menard. The felony case against him is also ongoing; court records show status proceedings are scheduled for next Tuesday.Follow @WLJReporter