Legal Ethics

Lawyer Accused of Inflating Billables for Bonuses Gets 1-Year Suspension


A Wisconsin lawyer accused of inflating his billable hours to qualify for nearly $47,000 in bonuses has been suspended from practice for a year, six months less than recommended by a referee.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court cited mitigating factors in imposing the lower penalty, the Legal Profession Blog reports. The lawyer, Matthew Siderits, reduced his claimed hours after receiving bonuses for work in 2007 and 2008, according to the opinion. The write downs occurred before clients were billed.

Siderits had contended he didn’t realize the write-downs disqualified him for the bonuses and the matter was a contractual dispute with his former firm. A referee, however, disagreed, and the supreme court said it would not disturb the finding. “Misappropriating firm funds through billing sleight of hand is inimical to the best interests of the firm, the public, and the profession, and, as such, constitutes misconduct,” the court said.

The court noted that Siderits had no disciplinary history, and the case had taken a toll on him. “He lost his job with the firm,” the opinion said. “He paid $60,000 to the firm to compensate for the bonuses to which he was not entitled and for other unspecified damages claimed by the firm. He forfeited his interest in the firm’s profit-sharing plan.”

Siderits will also be required to pay nearly $19,000 for the costs of disciplinary proceeding. He worked as a partner and treasurer at Otjen, Van Ert & Weir when he took the write-downs by changing his hourly entries on the computer system. The firm required partner billings to exceed 1,800 hours a year to qualify for bonuses.

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