Wisconsin lawyer’s alleged failure to appear at trial and later offer of gift card to a judicial assistant results in Bar disciplinary complaint
Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Bar Complaint filed against a Wisconsin lawyer who, inter alia, allegedly failed to appear for a trial and then “tossed a gift card” on the desk of the judge’s assistant in an apparent attempt to gain favor regarding the judge’s decision not to reschedule the trial and imposing the default judgment. The disciplinary complaint name and file number is In Re: Kirk W. Everson, Case No. 2015AP1054D and the formal complaint is attached.
According to a disciplinary complaint filed by the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation on May 28, 2015, the lawyer was scheduled to appear in a trial on a drunken driving ordinance violation in Oshkosh, Wisconsin before a Circuit Judge named Thomas Gritton. On the same morning, the lawyer was also scheduled to appear in a criminal case before a different judge in another Circuit Court in Vilas County, Wisconsin.
The lawyer had agreed to represent the defendant in Vilas County, Wisconsin during the week of September 23, 2013. On September 26, 2013, the lawyer filed a motion requesting a continuance of the trial before Judge Gritton; however, the judge apparently had not received it by September 30, 2013.
The case was then called for trial on September 30, 2013. The judge said: “Well I didn’t give you permission not to be here. Nobody gave—I mean, you just don’t get to not show up. It is not the way it works. And he had nothing from my office or from me directing him that he didn’t need to be here. I’m going to find him in default. I’m going to set a sentencing date and we’ll see what he (the lawyer) has to say.”
The judicial assistant called the lawyer on September 30, 2013 and advised him that the judge had defaulted and found his client guilty because of his non-appearance at the trial and she was calling to calendar a sentencing date. She also stated that she did not know what would happen and the lawyer became agitated and told the assistant that he was being “railroaded” by the court and the assistant city attorney. The lawyer said he did not have his schedule and the judicial assistant then said that she would contact the lawyer’s assistant to set up the hearing.
Later that same day, the lawyer went to the courthouse and “tossed a gift card” on the judicial assistant’s desk. The judicial assistant said that she could not accept it and moved it back toward the lawyer. The lawyer then said the following (or something similar to): “What, I don’t see anything” and took back the card. The Complaint does not specify the dollar amount of the gift card.
The judicial assistant told the judge of the lawyer’s alleged misconduct and the judge subsequently advised the Wisconsin Bar authorities (Office of Lawyer Regulation) regarding the incident. According to media reports, the judge revoked lawyer’s client’s driver’s license for eight months in October 2013 and the Wisconsin Bar has offered the lawyer a private reprimand to resolve the complaint.
Bottom line: This Wisconsin lawyer apparently failed to appear at a trial and, after a default was entered, he attempted to offer an improper gift card/incentive to a judicial assistant and is being offered a private reprimand. It would be very surprising if this result is approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms. If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
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