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Reinstatement granted for Kenosha attorney who converted $173K of former firm’s funds

Reinstatement granted for Kenosha attorney who converted $173K of former firm’s funds

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A Kenosha attorney found responsible for converting more than $173,000 of his former firm’s client funds can practice law once again.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted John Hotvedt’s petition for reinstatement on Friday. Hotvedt lost his license for 18 months after stipulating to five counts of misconduct alleged by the Office of Lawyer Regulation. Among other things, he was accused of converting for his own use more than $173,000 in client funds belonging to his former firm. The complaint said the president of Lloyd, Phenicie, Lynch, Kelly, Hotvedt & Terry in Burlington had discovered years of billing discrepancies after the firm was dissolved.

Hotvedt petitions for reinstatement

Hotvedt filed a petition for reinstatement in 2019. The OLR initially opposed the request because it believed Hotvedt had continued to practice law during his suspension. He’s a vice president at Bear Real Estate in Kenosha, and the OLR said his work was “largely indistinguishable” from his work as the company’s outside counsel.

However, Kim M. Peterson, the referee in the case, concluded that Hotvedt had followed the rules of his suspension. Peterson said Bear hired outside counsel for legal work, and that any legal-related work that Hotvedt had done, such as drafting real-estate contracts, was the same type of work non-lawyers at the company did.

The OLR withdrew its objection, and Peterson recommended Hotvedt for reinstatement.

Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstates Hotvedt, takes exception to referee’s report

The state Supreme Court ultimately agreed to reinstate Hotvedt, but the court’s opinion released on Friday took exception to Peterson’s report. The justices said their review was “hindered by a very cursory report” that lacked detailed factual findings and conclusions regarding the reinstatement criteria.

“The referee simply lists bare bones findings and conclusions, without analysis, and announces that reinstatement is appropriate,” the opinion said. “However, by parsing through the record before us we are able to discern that Attorney Hotvedt has satisfactorily met the reinstatement criteria delineated above, thereby avoiding the costly delay that a remand for further proceedings would entail.”

The justices said they made permissible inferences about some of the reinstatement criteria, including that Hotvedt’s conduct since suspension had been exemplary.

Hotvedt’s reinstatement takes effect on Friday. He must also pay costs of the proceeding, which totaled $4,867.82 on May 5.


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