The law license of a prominent attorney at Milwaukee firm Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown has been suspended for 60 days because of misconduct in two divorce cases.
In June, the Office of Lawyer Regulation accused Richard Reilly of five counts of misconduct related to divorce actions in Ozaukee and Waukesha counties.
In the Ozaukee County case, the OLR said Reilly had disobeyed a court order by using money from a retirement fund and vehicle sale to pay client debts that weren’t listed in a divorce judgment. Court documents said the money was used, among other things, to pay for medical-spa trips, the law firm’s fees and the woman’s bail after she was charged with three felonies for attempting to hire a hit man to target the Ozaukee County judge in her case, her ex-husband and her ex-husband’s girlfriend.
Reilly also continued representing the client even though a conflict developed when the client’s husband brought a contempt motion against him over the use of the retirement money.
In the Waukesha County case, the OLR said Reilly hadn’t delivered the case file to successor counsel and billed the client more than $23,000 for his own defense in a bankruptcy-related lawsuit filed by her husband.
Reilly initially admitted to some of the facts in the OLR complaint but denied committing any misconduct. He later entered a stipulation to withdraw his answer and admit to all the allegations in the complaint. The referee recommended a 60-day license suspension, but Reilly argued a public reprimand would be an appropriate sanction.
Reilly said the situation surrounding the Ozaukee County case was chaotic and his decisions “were the product of having to respond to urgent, bizarre, and unforeseeable circumstances, and the actions he took were for (the client’s) benefit. They were misconduct, but without malicious intent.”
The referee disagreed, saying Reilly was enabling his client to violate the divorce judgment and pay his own fees, but did acknowledge that Reilly had been cooperative with the OLR’s investigation.
The referee said Reilly’s partner, Frank Gimbel, testified on Reilly’s behalf. Gimbel said he’d known Reilly for 50 years and called him an outstanding lawyer with a reputation for taking hard cases.
The state Supreme Court sided with the referee on Thursday. The majority decided a 60-day suspension was an appropriate sanction for the misconduct.
“Even though Attorney Reilly has not been disciplined since 2004, this is his third disciplinary proceeding,” the justices wrote. “Imposing another reprimand would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the misconduct at issue.”
The high court also ordered Reilly to pay any financial obligations in the Ozaukee County case and the costs of the OLR disciplinary proceeding, which come to more than $15,800.
Justices Annette Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley filed a dissenting opinion, writing they would have imposed a 30-day suspension on Reilly.
“Adhering to the policy of 60-day minimum suspension deprives the court of the ability to impose an appropriate level of discipline commensurate with the particular facts of each case,” Ziegler wrote.
Reilly received a consensual private reprimand in 1985 and a consensual public reprimand in 2004.
He did not immediately return a request for comment. Follow @WLJReporter