After a second petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a former Fond du Lac attorney who saw his law license revoked will be able to practice again.
The high court on Tuesday granted Christopher Mutschler’s petition for reinstatement. He hasn’t been able to practice law for the last decade.
Mutschler’s disciplinary history
Mutschler petitioned to have his license revoked in 2010. At the time, the Office of Lawyer Regulation had been investigating 59 grievances from dozens of clients whom Mutschler represented in traffic, drunken-driving and criminal cases. Mutschler was also caught forging prescriptions to get pain medication and charged with two felony counts of forgery in Dodge County in 2007.
The state Supreme court revoked his license in 2011 and ordered him to pay $246,723 in restitution, saying Mutschler was “taking clients’ money and then doing little to no legal work.” He filed a petition for reinstatement in 2017, but the high court denied it.
Second petition for reinstatement
Mutschler petitioned again in July 2020 and appeared for a virtual hearing in January. One of his former clients testified at the hearing, saying he wants his money back but holds no animosity toward Mutschler.
“I do want to reiterate that everybody deserves a second chance, and I don’t think there’s one of you guys sitting on the panel that haven’t made a mistake that you regret,” the client said. “I accept Chris’s apology and I hope you give him a second chance.”
The state Supreme Court’s opinion said Mutschler had paid $3,200 in restitution to the Wisconsin Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection by the time of the January hearing. Mutschler said it’s been difficult to find some of his former clients and to make payments on his minimum-wage jobs. He said if he’s reinstated, he has a job waiting that would pay $65,000 a year, enough to increase his restitution payments.
The referee in his case recommended him for reinstatement, but the OLR had some concerns, in part about Mutschler’s finances and conduct during his suspension. The OLR pointed out that he owed child support and maintenance arrears totaling more than $400,000, had personal debt and had been driving with a suspended driver’s license during the period of his law-license suspension.
The referee called the OLR’s concerns a “very small part of the whole story” in Mutschler’s career as an attorney.
“The referee said during Attorney Mutschler’s 18 years of practice he rose to the pinnacle of his profession,” the state Supreme Court opinion said. “… (T)he lifeblood of drunk driving defense is motion practice, and Attorney Mutschler had an outstanding reputation for thinking outside the box in crafting innovative motions.”
Mutschler’s reinstatement granted
The state Supreme Court’s denial of Mutschler’s first petition was mainly about his failure to pay restitution or have a repayment plan in place. The justices said he’s made “valiant efforts” since then to pay back what he owed and will have a greater ability to do so if his license is reinstated.
“With the possibility of salary increases over time, reinstatement of Attorney Mutschler’s license will give him the capacity to whittle down his restitution obligations in a way that would never be possible if he were precluded from resuming his profession as an attorney,” the opinion said.
Mutschler’s license was reinstated by Tuesday. He must pay the full costs of the proceeding, which were $9,028.76 on March 29.
Justice Jill Karofsky did not participate in the decision.Follow @WLJReporter