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Former prosecutor accused of paying women for sex loses law license for two years

A former Jackson County prosecutor accused of posting bond for women in exchange for sexual favors will lose his law license for two years.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in the Office of Lawyer Regulation’s case against James C. Ritland, a solo practitioner in Black River Falls.

Ritland, who worked as Jackson County district attorney in 1981 and 1982, was accused of soliciting three women, posting bond for women in exchange for sex, maintaining a drug house, letting a woman use heroin in his office and giving women money to buy drugs between 2013 and 2016. The case began as 12 charges against Ritland, including four felonies, but it ended with a sentence of 25 days in jail for three misdemeanors.

The OLR filed a complaint against Ritland in 2018 based on his conviction. The office asked for a six-month license suspension as punishment. Ritland denied any misconduct, and the case proceeded through discovery and to an evidentiary hearing.

After the hearing, a referee in the case recommended a three-month suspension of Ritland’s law license and an order to pay $21,017.24 in costs for the disciplinary matter.

Both Ritland and the OLR appealed the recommendation. Ritland argued that there wasn’t sufficient evidence against him and his behavior merited, at most, a public reprimand. The OLR, meanwhile, thought a six-month suspension was warranted, arguing Ritland failed to show error in the referee’s factual findings.

The majority ⁠— made up of Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet, Brian Hagedorn and Jill Karofsky ⁠— decided a two-year suspension was the appropriate punishment based on Ritland’s conduct and increasing scrutiny over the years for attorneys’ sexual misconduct.

The opinion said Ritland “fought tool and nail” to avoid discipline and called him a “difficult litigant” throughout the process. Ritland argued that he should receive a lesser sentence because the worst of the charges against him had been dropped, but the majority said that would require the court “to close its eyes to what the OLR had proved Attorney Ritland had done.”

“To the extent that Attorney Ritland believes that the State’s dismissal of certain charges automatically immunizes the conduct proven here from professional discipline, he is mistaken,” the opinion said.

The majority also disagreed with Ritland’s argument that adultery doesn’t reflect badly on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law.

“(W)e refuse to ignore the overwhelming evidence that bears squarely on his fitness to practice law; namely, evidence that he engaged in coerced or quid pro quo sexual relationships with vulnerable women,” the opinion said.

The court has applied increasing scrutiny to attorneys’ sexual misconduct over the years, the majority said, and the justices opted for a more severe punishment than Ritland and the referee had suggested.

“At the risk of redundancy, we emphasize that sexual misconduct by attorneys, whether with clients or non-clients, is not taken lightly,” the opinion said.

Chief Justice Pat Roggensack dissented with the decision because it wasn’t consistent with past disciplinary actions for lawyers without prior misconduct. She did not say what punishment she would have applied instead. Justices Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler joined in her dissent.

Ritland’s suspension will start on June 3. The court also ordered him to pay the $21,017.24, which are the full costs of the proceeding as of March.

Ritland was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1978 and has no previous disciplinary history. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About Michaela Paukner, [email protected]

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at [email protected]

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