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GOP Objects to Wisconsin Gov’s Unlicensed Chief Legal Counsel

Posted Aug 7, 2009 2:32 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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When she moved from California, where she had been practicing as an attorney, back to her home state, Chandra Miller Fienen didn't get licensed as as an attorney in Wisconsin. But that hasn't prevented her from getting a job as a senior adviser in Gov. Jim Doyle's office of legal counsel.

Since taking the job in 2008 she has routinely been referred to as the governor's chief legal counsel by state officials and in news articles, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin today sent a letter of complaint (PDF) to the state Office of Lawyer Regulation about the situation, reports WisPolitics.com.

It contends not only that Miller Fienen's role amounts to unauthorized practice of law but that Doyle himself, as an attorney and Miller Fienen's supervisor, may have violated legal ethics rules by permitting her to do this work.

“The fact that the governor's chief legal counsel is not even licensed to practice law in Wisconsin is astonishing, and as an attorney himself and her supervisor, Governor Doyle should know better,” says the party's executive director, Mark Jefferson, in a press release.

However, Miller Fienen's lack of a Wisconsin law license isn't a problem because she's not actually practicing law, the governor's office says in a written statement reported by the Journal Sentinel:

"Ms. Miller Fienen does not practice law and does not represent this office in court or in any way that exceeds her authority. She is an invaluable employee of the governor and a trusted and competent adviser on a wide range of issues, including education, commerce and emergency management, among others."

Miller Fienen also trains employees about how to respond to requests for public records and resolve disputes over requests that may be unclear, overly broad or seeking sensitive personal information, reports the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Related earlier coverage:

Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter: "Meet Commerce's New EA"

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