Legal Ethics

Court revokes law license for former BigLaw partner convicted of stealing from elderly client

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has revoked the law license of a former Quarles & Brady partner convicted in 2012 of stealing $370,000 from an elderly client with dementia.

The court made the license revocation for Jeffrey Elverman effective on March 25, which means he will not be able to seek reinstatement for five years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Proof & Hearsay blog. Elverman was sentenced in March 2012 to seven months in jail, with work release privileges so he could endeavor to pay $325,000 in restitution to the 94-year-old victim, Dorothy Phinney. She died six months later.

So far Elverman has paid about $15,000 in restitution, the lawyer for Phinney’s trust told Proof & Hearsay.

The court was apparently unswayed by Elverman’s argument that his BigLaw hiring was proof of his “sound ethical and moral character.”

Elverman had contended the law license revocation should be retroactive to a 2008 suspension stemming from a different matter—an initial failure to report $230,000 in co-trustee fees to tax authorities. A retroactive suspension would have allowed Elverman to apply for immediate reinstatement, Proof & Hearsay says. Elverman eventually paid the taxes, and he was not charged with any criminal violations in the tax case.

Elverman left Quarles & Brady in November 2004, after the law firm learned that Elverman’s co-trustee fees were not turned over to the law firm. (Elverman has said he wasn’t aware those fees should have gone to the law firm, and the tax issue was an oversight, according to Proof & Hearsay.) Elverman then joined Michael Best & Friedrich, which ousted Elverman when it learned of pending disciplinary proceedings related to the tax issue, the court opinion (PDF) says.

Elverman did not inform either firm that he was acting as a trustee for Phinney. Between December 2001 and September 2004, he was paid at least $604,000 by the woman, purportedly for performing 30 to 35 hours per week of personal services that he billed at $150 an hour, the court said.

Adding the hours he billed at Quarles & Brady to the hours he claimed to have worked for Phinney, Elverman would have had to work 75 hours a week in 2002; 74 hours a week in 2003; and 54 hours a week in 2004, the court said.

Elverman had not sought reinstatement of his law license after the nine-month suspension in 2008. In seeking retroactive revocation of his license, Elverman pointed to his civic and charitable work, as well as the judgment of those who hired him.

“It is fair to say,” Elverman argued, “that becoming an equity partner at two major law firms requires not only intellectual capacity, but also sound ethical and moral character. Many smart and worthy attorneys saw Elverman fit to become one of their partners. This was not a mistake.”

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