2004 WI 9
CASE NO.: COMPLETE TITLE:
03-2688-D In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Michael J. Collins, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant, v. Michael J. Collins, Respondent.
DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST COLLINS
OPINION FILED: SUBMITTED ON BRIEFS: ORAL ARGUMENT: SOURCE OF APPEAL: COURT: COUNTY: JUDGE: JUSTICES: CONCURRED: DISSENTED: NOT PARTICIPATING: ATTORNEYS:
February 12, 2004
2004 WI 9
This opinion is subject to further editing and modification. The final version will appear in the bound volume of the official reports.
03-2688-D : IN SUPREME COURT
STATE OF WISCONSIN
In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Michael J. Collins, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant, v. Michael J. Collins, Respondent.
FEB 12, 2004
Cornelia G. Clark Clerk of Supreme Court
Attorney Michael J. Collins and the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) pursuant to SCR 22.12.1 ¶2 court On October 13, 2003, the OLR filed a complaint in this alleging eight separate counts of misconduct client against matters.
Collins did not file an answer but instead, he and the OLR filed a stipulation in which Collins admitted the facts and misconduct as alleged in the OLR's complaint and agreed to the level of discipline the OLR sought in this disciplinary matter——a 60-day suspension of Collins' license to practice law in this state. ¶3 facts We approve the stipulation and adopt the stipulated and conclusions regarding Collins' eight counts of
misconduct as alleged in the OLR's complaint. the seriousness of Attorney Collins'
We determine that warrants
suspension of his license to practice law for a period of 60 days. ¶4 Michael J. Collins was admitted to practice law in
Wisconsin in 1977 and most recently he practiced in Madison. Effective October 1, 2000, Wisconsin's attorney disciplinary process was substantially restructured. The name of the body responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases involving attorney misconduct was changed from the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility (BAPR) to the Office of Lawyer Regulation and the supreme court rules applicable to the lawyer regulation were also revised in part. Some of the conduct underlying this case arose prior to October 1, 2000. However, the complainant in this case will be referred to as the OLR. All references to supreme court rules will be to the current version of the supreme court rules unless otherwise noted. 2
disciplinary violations.2 ¶5 The OLR's disciplinary complaint alleged that Collins The alleged
had committed eight separate counts of misconduct.
misconduct to which he now stipulates includes two counts of neglect, two trust account violations, two instances of failing to cooperate with the OLR investigations, one count of
disobeying a court order, and one count of failure to keep a client reasonably informed about a hearing in her case. admits to the facts as alleged in the OLR complaint. summarized, the allegations are these: Collins Briefly
CLIENT R.S. ¶6 that The OLR complaint alleged, and Collins now stipulates, represented wife, damaged R.S. in had a divorce action in in an Rock auto that
In June 1989 Collins consented to a public reprimand for his misconduct in failing to timely file answers to an opposing party's interrogatories or otherwise pursue his client's legal action, neglecting a legal matter, stating to his client that the interrogatories had been answered when Collins had not done so, misrepresenting the status of the lawsuit to his client, and signing, though not negotiating, a settlement agreement, failing to cooperate with the BAPR investigation and neglecting a legal matter entrusted to him. In January 1995 Collins again consented to a public reprimand for his misconduct in failing to promptly inform his client about developments in the client's case and for failing to timely pursue an appeal or motion for reconsideration on his client's behalf. 3
subsequently received an insurance settlement check——in R.S.'s name——in the amount of $3300 for damage to the 1988 station wagon. J.S.S. received that settlement check before January 10,
1997, the date on which a temporary order hearing in the divorce action was held. As of that date, the monthly payments of
$436.80 for the 1995 van for November and December 1996 had not been made to the lien holder on the van. ¶7 After the January 10, 1997, hearing, the circuit court
ordered that the $3300 proceeds from the insurance settlement for the damage to the 1988 station wagon be placed in Collins' trust account; also, Collins was directed to contact the lien holder on the van and make arrangements to "catch up" on the past due payments and to find out if the lien holder would agree, after it received the $3300 cash payment from Collins' trust account, to reduce the principal balance and renegotiate the loan on the van so as to permit a lower monthly payment. ¶8 On January 18, 1997, the attorney representing J.S.S.
in the divorce action forwarded the $3300 insurance settlement check J.S.S. had received to Collins. Although Collins knew the
circuit court's order required him to deposit that check into his trust account and to then make arrangements with the lien holder on the van, Collins failed to deposit the check into his trust account. ¶9 In addition, Collins failed to instruct his client,
R.S., to come to his office to endorse that settlement check so
that Collins could then deposit it in his trust account and make the van payments. ¶10 On April 9, 1997, R.S. received a Notice of Right to R.S. faxed
Cure Default from the lien holder regarding the van.
that document to Collins and called him but Collins did not return the call. made several During the latter half of April 1997, R.S. unsuccessful attempts to contact
Collins. 1997. ¶11
R.S. was finally able to reach Collins on April 30,
On May 9, 1997, R.S. learned that he needed to endorse
the settlement check and he then did so on that date. ¶12 grievance agency). Subsequently, against in November with the of 1999, R.S. filed a
BAPR and Collins corresponded regarding that grievance
throughout February of 2000. ¶13 On April 27, 2000, BAPR staff wrote to Collins asking
for additional information and a response no later than May 11, 2000. Collins, however, failed to respond. On May 16, 2000, BAPR staff again wrote to Collins and
asked for his response; again, he did not respond. ¶15 BAPR staff subsequently referred the grievance While
investigation to its district investigative committee.
that investigation was pending, this state's lawyer regulation system was restructured and the disciplinary agency was renamed the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR). ¶16 district On February 28, 2001, Collins and met with the to OLR's
additional attorney Collins
communication in the
regarding his failure to respond to the BAPR staff investigative letters. information Collins no later agreed than that he would 2001. supply Collins, all the
failed to provide any further information to the investigative committee regarding R.S.'s grievance. ¶17 Five as This course of conduct resulted in Counts One through alleged in the OLR's complaint. Those counts of
misconduct to which Collins now stipulates are: A. Count One. By failing to deposit the insurance settlement check into his trust account, Collins failed to hold in trust, property of clients or third persons in his possession in connection with a representation or when acting in a fiduciary capacity in violation of SCR 20:1.15(a). Count Two. By failing to promptly deliver the funds to the lien holder, despite the court's temporary order, Collins failed to, upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, promptly notify the client or third person in writing, and failed to promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive, in violation of SCR 20:1.15(b). Count Three. By taking four months to deposit the insurance settlement check instead of timely depositing the money into his trust account and by failing during that time to make past due payments to his client's lien holder, Collins failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. 6
Count Four. By failing to follow the court's temporary order requiring him to deposit an insurance settlement check into his trust account, and make arrangements with the parties' bank to catch up on any past due payments, Collins knowingly disobeyed an obligation under the rules of a tribunal, in violation of SCR 20:3.4(c). Count Five. By failing to respond to two requests for information from the BAPR staff and by failing to provide information to the district committee as agreed, Collins failed to cooperate with the investigative committee; Collins failed to cooperate with the OLR in the investigation, prosecution and disposition of a grievance; and by failing to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to the alleged misconduct, Collins engaged in professional misconduct, in violation of SCR 21:03(4) (1998), SCR 22.07(3) (1998), SCR 22.04(1), SCR 21.15(4), and SCR 22.03(2) (October 1, 2000).
CLIENT M.T. ¶18 The OLR complaint further alleged, and Collins now
stipulates, that in May 1998, M.T. retained Collins as counsel in a divorce action then pending in the Dane County Circuit Court. Collins was the fourth attorney M.T. had retained in
that divorce action. ¶19 Opposing counsel in the divorce action subsequently
filed a motion seeking a firm date and a time for completion of a property exchange between M.T. and her former husband. On
October 29, 1998, the circuit court scheduled a hearing on that motion for Monday, November 9, 1998. Collins, however,
intentionally did not timely inform his client, M.T., of that scheduled hearing because he believed that her presence at that 7
hearing might be disruptive.
It was not until Friday, November
6, 1998, that Collins mailed M.T. notice of the hearing then scheduled for the next Monday; he knew that that notice would probably not reach M.T. in time for her to arrange to be present at the hearing the following Monday. ¶20 hearing. M.T. in fact did not appear at that November 9, 1998, Because she was not present at that hearing, Collins In M.T.'s for M.T.'s
did not raise certain issues she wanted addressed. absence, the circuit court set a date and time
husband to retrieve his personal property from M.T.'s home. ¶21 This course of conduct as alleged in the OLR's
complaint resulted in Count Six to which Collins now stipulates: A. Count Six. By deliberately not informing a client of a post-divorce hearing Collins failed to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, in violation of SCR 20:1.4(a).
CLIENT N.M. ¶22 The OLR alleged, and Collins now stipulates, that he
was appointed to act as guardian of 16-year-old N.M. in Sauk County. Upon N.M.'s 18th birthday in November 1999, Collins was
required to file his final guardian report detailing the funds collected and bills paid in the matter. When Collins' final
report was overdue, the circuit court scheduled a hearing for December 1999. Collins failed to appear at that hearing even
though he had notice of it.
By early 2000 when Collins still had not filed his
final report regarding N.M.'s guardianship, the circuit court scheduled another hearing; again, Collins failed to appear. ¶24 On April 4, 2000, the circuit court sent Collins
When his final report in the N.M. guardianship
still had not been filed by May 3, 2000, the circuit court reported Collins' neglect of his duties as guardian in N.M.'s case to BAPR. 2000. ¶25 On May 25, 2000, a BAPR investigator contacted Collins Collins finally filed his report in late May of
and asked him to respond to this grievance by June 14, 2000. Collins did not respond by that deadline. ¶26 BAPR staff then sent Collins a follow-up letter at the
new address he had provided; Collins was given a new deadline of July 3, 2000, to respond to the grievance concerning the N.M. guardianship. ¶27 This Collins did not respond until August 2, 2000. course of conduct as alleged in the OLR's
complaint resulted in Counts Seven and Eight to which Collins now stipulates. A. Count Seven. By failing to timely file a guardianship report and by failing to attend two hearings, Collins failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client, in violation of SCR 20:1.3. Count Eight. By failing to timely respond to requests for information by the BAPR, Collins failed to cooperate with the board and the administrator in the investigation, prosecution, and disposition of a grievance; and failed to fully and fairly disclose all facts and circumstances pertaining to the alleged 9
misconduct in violation and SCR 22.07(2) (1998). ¶28
As noted, Collins has now stipulated to these eight He
counts of misconduct as alleged by the OLR in its complaint.
admits the facts and the misconduct as alleged, and he agrees that a 60-day suspension of his license to practice law in this state is an appropriate sanction for that misconduct. ¶29 We approve of the stipulation Collins' and determine that the the
suspension of his license to practice law for 60 days. Collins' actions as serious violations lawyers of in the
We view Rules of
Professional Accordingly, ¶30
IT IS ORDERED that the license of Michael J. Collins
to practice law in Wisconsin is suspended for a period of 60 days, effective March 18, 2004. ¶31 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Michael J. Collins comply
with the provisions of SCR 22.26 concerning the duties of a person whose license to practice law in Wisconsin has been