Legal Ethics

Divided Wis. Supreme Court OKs Brief Suspensions as Reciprocal Discipline

Saying that it was following the lead of another state, as it routinely does in reciprocal attorney discipline cases, a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday imposed brief suspensions on two lawyers who were accused in 2005 of raping a woman they met on the dance floor at a bar and subsequently pleaded guilty to the lesser felony of reckless endangerment.

However, two dissenting justices said a more severe penalty was called for than the 60- and 30-day law license suspensions imposed on Stephan Walter Addison and Benjamin C. Butler, respectively.

The two lawyers, who were law school classmates, were associates at major Chicago-based law firms at the time of the crime, which took place in Wisconsin, as they were spending an alcohol-fueled weekend at the Addison family’s vacation home in Green Lake County.

Illinois attorney regulators noted that the two expressed remorse and had been forced to resign from their respective law firm jobs as a result of the cases against them, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Addison has since worked as a sole practitioner in Wisconsin and Butler is an associate at a Chicago law firm.

In her dissenting opinions in both cases, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Drake Roggensack writes that the applicable rule calls for reciprocal discipline to be identical “unless the misconduct justifies substantially different discipline in this state.” Because criminally reckless conduct endangering the safety of a human being is a requisite element of the crime for which the two lawyers were convicted, their conduct likely would have resulted in a harsher penalty had it been handled by Wisconsin attorney disciplinary authorities as an original matter there, she said.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court majority noted in its opinions that it had asked the Office of Lawyer Regulation for an explanation why the OLR had not pursued disciplinary cases against Addison and Butler on its own instead of allowing Illinois to take the lead.

The court was told in an OLR filing last year that the agency had done so for various reasons, including the fact that both lawyers then practiced in Illinois, and it is common for disciplinary agencies to let the “primary jurisdiction” in which the lawyers practice to take charge of an attorney ethics case.

The OLR also didn’t want to duplicate resources, especially since Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court puts it, “expressly informed the OLR that it had set aside resources to conduct an investigation that would go beyond the record compiled in the criminal case and that it intended to conduct supplemental interviews of the victim and other witnesses.”

Earlier coverage: “Partying and Sexual Encounter Lead to Proposed Suspension for 2 Ex-BigLaw Associates”

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