A Mequon attorney accused of “blowing off” two of his clients could lose his law license for 60 days.
The OLR filed a complaint against Attorney Benjamin Harris of Benjamin Harris JD LLC in Mequon. The complaint charges Harris with four counts of misconduct related to failing to communicate with his clients and failing to take the appropriate action in their cases.
Two of the charges involve Theodore Polczynski, who had hired Harris defend him and his companies in three lawsuits. According to the OLR complaint, default judgments were entered against the client on technical grounds in two of the lawsuits because of Harris’s conduct.
In a 2017 lawsuit involving a drywall subcontractor, the OLR said Harris failed to appear after filing an answer and affirmative defenses, which resulted in a default judgment against Polczynski for $2,200 in December 2017.
The complaint said Polczynski saw the judgment reflected in the court records and started trying to speak to Harris, sending him emails saying he was frustrated with the lack of communication and getting the feeling Harris was “blowing me off.”
“I have been begging you to resolve this and it seems like you are avoiding doing anything bases (sic) on you ignoring me and my questions,” Polczynski wrote in a February 2018 email included in OLR’s complaint.
About a week later, Harris filed a Motion to Reopen, but Polczynski said Harris still wasn’t communicating with him. Harris stayed on the case until its conclusion in December 2019, when a judgment was granted in favor of the plaintiffs for $900.
In February 2018, Polczynski also retained Harris to defend him in a small-claims lawsuit involving breach of contract and unjust-enrichment claims from a construction subcontractor.
The case was scheduled for mandatory mediation on April 9. According to the complaint, Harris said he had left the mediation center a voicemail saying he had a conflict with the date, but the mediation center files contained no indication that Harris had communicated about the conflict.
The OLR complaint said neither Polczynski nor Harris appeared, but the other parties did. A few days later, a court commissioner filed a default judgment and notice-of-entry judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
“What is going on with you?” Polczynski asked Harris in an email the day after the judgment was entered, according to the OLR’s complaint. “I have asked for you to represent us and respond to my emails. Why are you ignoring me and not taking care of defending us.”
The complaint said Harris filed a motion to reopen two and a half weeks after the default judgment was entered, and the motion was granted. The case was settled in mediation.
The first two charges against Harris accuse him of failing to respond to Polczynski in both cases, failing to file a motion to reopen the default judgment in the drywall case and failing to appear or confirm a reschedule for mediation in the construction subcontractor case.
The OLR alleged similar misconduct by Harris in his handling of a 2013 dispute among former partners who ran a tavern in Milwaukee.
Harris filed a summons and complaint for breach of contract and unjust enrichment against his client John Herde’s two former partners. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, alleging errors and omissions in the complaint. The court gave Harris 30 days to amend it.
The OLR’s complaint said the court couldn’t reach Harris for months and sent out a notice saying the matter was being placed on the dismissal calendar. Harris finally responded, saying he intended to file the amended complaint by July 31 — about four months after it was due. The judge signed an order to dismiss the case on July 31, the same day Harris had filed the amended complaint.
The OLR said Harris then filed a motion to reopen the case, citing personal reasons for his failure to file an amended complaint. The court denied the motion, and Harris filed the lawsuit a second time.
The court scheduled a trial for June 2017, and after defense counsel requested an adjournment of the trial, a pretrial conference was set.
Harris didn’t show up for the pretrial conference, the OLR’s complaint said. When Herde asked him why, Harris said he had never received a notice about it. Harris promised to file a response to the defendants’ motion to dismiss within a week, but the OLR alleges he didn’t do so until a month later.
A trial was scheduled for November 2017. The OLR said Harris never deposed any witnesses and conducted minimal or no discovery. The case settled on the day of the trial.
The OLR’s alleged third and fourth violations against Harris charge him for failing to timely file an amended complaint, failing to adequately prepare for trial and failing to keep Herde informed.
Request for 60-day suspension
The OLR is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to suspend Harris’ law license for 60 days and to grant an award of costs as punishment for the four alleged counts of misconduct.
Harris said he has no comment on the complaint.
Harris’ previous disciplinary history includes two suspensions, a public reprimand and two private reprimands.
The state Supreme Court dismissed an OLR complaint against Harris in 2017, citing “apparent incongruities in the definitional and substance rules” related to the treatment of fees.
Harris was admitted to the State Bar of Wisconsin in 1996. Follow @WLJReporter