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Lawyer regulation

Regulation process

The Wisconsin Supreme Court created the lawyer regulation system to carry out the court's constitutional responsibility to supervise the practice of law and protect the public from misconduct by persons practicing law in Wisconsin. The court has adopted standards of professional conduct for attorneys and confers the privilege to practice law on an attorney on the condition that he comply with those standards. A failure to comply with the court's standards may constitute misconduct or may be evidence of a medical problem.

Initially, OLR staff screens all inquiries and grievances concerning attorney conduct. If the allegations made are not within OLR's jurisdiction, staff will close the file. If the grievant disagrees with the staff's decision, the grievant may make a written request for the director's review of the closure. The director's decision is final. After preliminary evaluation, staff may also forward the matter to another agency; attempt to reconcile the matter between the grievant and attorney if it is a minor dispute; or refer the matter to the director for diversion or investigation.

If the grievance sets forth sufficient information to support an allegation of a violation of Chapter 20 of the Supreme Court Rules, OLR staff will initiate a formal investigation. OLR staff will send a letter to the respondent enclosing the grievance and requesting a response within 20 days. In most instances, staff will forward the attorney's response to the grievant for comments.

When OLR staff has received the initial responses, the director will determine whether: (a) an uncontested violation exists; (b) the grievance should be dismissed for lack of merit; (c) further staff investigation is needed; or (d) the matter should be assigned to a district investigative committee for further investigation, pursuant to SCR 22.04(1) Adobe PDF.

If the grievance is further investigated by staff or a district committee, the respondent and the grievant will be kept advised about the investigation. The committee chairperson can assign the matter to one of the committee's investigators. Pursuant to SCR 22.04(2) Adobe PDF, the respondent may request a substitution of a district committee investigator within 14 days of receiving notice of the assignment of the investigator. The respondent shall be granted one such substitution as a matter of right, and any other requests for substitution shall be granted by the committee chairperson for good cause shown.

If the committee decides to take sworn testimony regarding a grievance at an investigative meeting, the respondent and the grievant will receive timely notice of the meeting. Committee members elicit pertinent information from witnesses at such a meeting. In any matter referred to committee, the committee will prepare a report summarizing the facts and potential disciplinary violations. That report will be sent to the respondent and grievant for comment.

After the investigation is completed by staff and/or a committee, the director may dismiss the matter for lack of sufficient evidence of cause to proceed, divert the matter to an alternatives to discipline program, obtain respondent's consent to a private or public reprimand, or present the matter to the Preliminary Review Committee for a determination of whether there is cause to proceed. In those cases in which the director dismisses, the grievant has 30 days after receiving written notice of the dismissal to make a written request for review of the decision by the Preliminary Review Committee. The decision of the Preliminary Review Committee is final.

If after the investigation is completed, the director does not dismiss the grievance or divert the matter, OLR staff will prepare an investigative report and provide a copy to the grievant and to the respondent for comment. (In cases in which a district committee investigates a matter, its report will serve as the investigative report.) The grievant and the respondent may submit a written response to the report no later than 10 days following receipt of the report.

The director may then obtain the attorney's consent to a reprimand or submit the results of the investigation to the Preliminary Review Committee. The Preliminary Review Committee determines whether the evidence presented supports a reasonable belief that an attorney has engaged in misconduct or has a medical incapacity that may be proved by clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court will select a referee to review the matter, and the referee's decision is final.

If the Preliminary Review Committee determines that the director has established cause to proceed, the director may file a complaint with the Supreme Court alleging misconduct. OLR, rather than the grievant, is the complainant in such a matter. If the director files a complaint, an answer is required within 20 days of service of the complaint. Upon proof of service, the Supreme Court appoints a referee to hear the matter pursuant to SCR 22.13(3) Adobe PDF. The referee holds a scheduling conference to define the issues and to determine the extent of discovery. The referee then presides at a public hearing which is conducted as a trial of a civil action to the court. OLR must prove misconduct or medical incapacity by clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence.

Within 30 days after the conclusion of the hearing, the referee will submit his or her report to the Supreme Court, including findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a recommendation of dismissal or discipline. OLR or a respondent may file an appeal of the referee's report within 20 days after the report is filed. If no appeal is timely filed, the Supreme Court reviews the referee's report and determines appropriate discipline in cases of misconduct and appropriate action in cases of medical incapacity. The court may, on its own motion, order the parties to file briefs.

Either the respondent or OLR may file a motion for reconsideration of the Supreme Court's decision within 20 days of the filing of the decision by the court. The filing of a motion for reconsideration does not stay enforcement of the judgment. The Supreme Court's final dispositions of disciplinary and medical incapacity proceedings are published in the Wisconsin Reports and in The Wisconsin Lawyer.

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