FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2009

9:45 a.m.


The Wisconsin Supreme Court is responsible for supervising the practice of law in the state and protecting the public from misconduct by lawyers. Lawyers must follow Rules of Professional Conduct developed by the Court. When there is an allegation that a lawyer has acted unethically, the Supreme Court’s Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) investigates and, if warranted, prosecutes the attorney. A referee – a court-appointed attorney or reserve judge – hears the discipline cases and makes recommendations to the Supreme Court.


2007AP1908-D and 2006AP1191-D  OLR v. Willie J. Nunnery


These two lawyer discipline cases involve attorney Willie J. Nunnery, who was admitted to the Wisconsin bar in 1976 and has a practice in Madison.

In 2007AP1908-D, the OLR appeals and Nunnery cross-appeals the report and recommendation of a referee. The referee found misconduct with respect to each count in OLR’s 15-count complaint, arising from four client matters – an estate, an equal rights proceeding and two employment matters.

The referee recommends that Nunnery’s license to practice law in Wisconsin be suspended for two years; all costs be assessed; and restitution to the beneficiaries of the estate John Davis be imposed.

Some of the counts against Nunnery involve questions of diligence, effectiveness, honesty and whether he properly kept clients informed and updated about their cases. OLR also claims Nunnery failed to properly disclose information and respond to inquiries.

OLR argues the referee erred in not recommending revocation and that Nunnery has demonstrated he is unfit by repeatedly breaching fundamental duties to clients.

Nunnery claims the referee’s recommendation of a two-year suspension is excessive.   He says the referee ignored the record relating to violations in two of the grievances, and that 6 of the counts should be summarily dismissed because, in part, the record fails to support some of the claims and findings by the referee.

In 2006AP1191-D, Nunnery is facing a six-month suspension related to a 21-count discipline complaint concerning three client matters.  One matter involved claims of discrimination and denial of credit related to a real-estate transaction, and  misconduct with respect to handling personal injury claims arising from an auto accident.

According to the referee, Nunnery allegedly failed to properly handle fees, keep records, to avoid a conflict of interest and to provide information to OLR. In addition, Nunnery allegedly made a false statement to a tribunal and failed to keep a client updated and informed and to abide by the client’s decision.

Nunnery raises two issues on appeal, whether the evidence supports the counts charged; and whether a six-month suspension is appropriate.

Nunnery complains that the OLR and the referee failed to analyze the discrimination claims and that the client misrepresented facts in one case. In another case, Nunnery asserts that no factual basis exists for the alleged violations. He argues that the OLR should not become another court for disgruntled civil rights litigants.

OLR contends Nunnery has demonstrated a pattern of misconduct, which caused harm to clients and the profession. The OLR argues the referee’s recommended six-month license suspension is not excessive and that Nunnery’s alleged misconduct is aggravated by his previous suspension for misconduct. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Nunnery, 2007 WI 1, 298 Wis. 2d 289, 725 N.W.2d 613.

The Supreme Court will determine if Nunnery violated rules of attorney conduct in each case, and if so, the appropriate penalty.