A Wauwatosa lawyer’s inability to explain why he stole thousands of dollars from his business partners could result in his receiving a longer law-license suspension than first sought. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments in the Office of Lawyer Regulation’s Case against Robert Moodie on Monday.
The OLR accused Moodie of violating two attorney-ethics rules when he was a senior partner at Hippenmeyer, Reilly, Moodie & Blum. While he was in the hospital for a heart attack in 2016, lawyers at the firm discovered Moodie had collected money from clients and deposited it into his personal bank account instead of the firm’s account. The OLR estimated he converted at least $8,665 worth of fees. A referee recommended a six-month to one-year license suspension.
Moodie’s attorney, Terry Johnson, argued for a five-month suspension instead at Monday’s hearing. Johnson said Moodie’s conduct was out of character. He said he had looked into presenting a medical defense but found the applicable burden-of-proof standard couldn’t be met.
“Speaking from a common-sense perspective, it’s the only explanation for why someone who behaved without blemish for 30 years, suddenly for one relatively short period of time … behaved in a way that is totally uncharacteristic of his conduct for the rest of his life,” Johnson said.
Thomas Laitsch, assistant litigation counsel for the OLR, said the office believes Moodie should lose his license for at least six months because he couldn’t explain why he took the money. He said he was baffled about why Moodie converted money that he would have been paid in fees anyway.
“These cases have to stand for and present a very high level of deterrence for other attorneys,” Laitsch said. “A brief suspension of 60 days or even five months to require an attorney to demonstrate his character and fitness will set a dangerous precedent.”
Laitsch said the OLR wants to see Moodie go through reinstatement so officials can gain a better understanding of Moodie’s behavior. Johnson reminded the court that Moodie had testified that he has a poor memory of the events but didn’t resist because “it’s obvious it’s true.”
Johnson said a six-month suspension would essentially leave Moodie unable to practice for more than a year because he’d have to go through reinstatement.
Moodie was working at Wauwatosa-based Judge, Lang & Katers when the complaint was filed. The firm said he no longer works there. Follow @WLJReporter