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Lawyer blames opioid addiction for misconduct, referee disagrees

A northern Wisconsin lawyer blamed 18 counts of misconduct on his opioid addiction, but a referee in the Office of Lawyer Regulation’s case against him disagreed, saying the two matters are unrelated.

Attorney Jesse Johansen, a solo practitioner out of Superior, lost his law license for six months starting Thursday. He stipulated to 18 counts of misconduct arising from four client complaints.

The OLR charged Johansen with the first nine counts in December 2018 after receiving an overdraft notice from Johansen’s bank. Upon investigation, the OLR discovered Johansen had not had a client sign a written contingent-fee agreement and settled that client’s personal-injury case without giving the client written notice that he had received money from the settlement.

The OLR filed an amended complaint against Johansen in June 2019, adding nine more counts of misconduct related to three other client cases. The OLR said Johansen accepted advance fees in all three cases but didn’t do the promised work. When the OLR investigations began, Johansen failed to respond to the three grievances filed against him.

At a sanction hearing, Johansen testified that he had hurt his back while serving in the U.S. Marines and developed an opioid addiction. Johansen had entered in-patient treatment twice in 2019, but he said he wasn’t getting treatment at the time of the hearing.

When asked about his future treatment plan, Johansen said, “I haven’t thought it because it hasn’t been an issue, but I suppose I had better because it is sometimes a lifetime struggle, and I know I have struggled with it for 20 years now.”

The referee in the case said Johansen was using his addiction as a defense, but there wasn’t a proven connection between his addiction and the 18 misconduct charges. The referee also noted Johansen’s lack of cooperation with the investigations and said it was unclear whether Johansen understood the trust-account rules.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with the referee’s recommended six-month law license suspension and ordered it into effect on Thursday. The justices also ordered Johansen to pay $4,650 in restitution and the full costs of the proceeding, which totaled $5,253.95 by December.

Johansen has no previous disciplinary history, but his law license was revoked in October 2018 for not cooperating with the OLR’s investigation. The high court lifted that temporary suspension with its most recent order.

The State Bar also suspended his license for not paying dues, certifying trust-account information and complying with continuing legal-education requirements. Those suspensions remain.

Johansen did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at mpaukner@wislawjournal.com.

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