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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stern

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

February 4, 2016

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Walter W. Stern, III, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
v.
Walter W. Stern, III, Respondent

OPINION

Page 94

[366 Wis.2d 433] ATTORNEY reinstatement proceeding.

Attorney's license reinstated.

PER CURIAM.

[¶1]  We review, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 22.33(3),[1] a report filed by Referee Dennis J. Flynn, recommending that the court reinstate the license of Walter W. Stern, III to practice law in Wisconsin. Upon careful review of the matter, we agree that Attorney Stern's license should be reinstated upon conditions to be discussed later. As to costs, we hold that, due to the unique nature of this case, Attorney Stern should be responsible for one-half of the Office of Lawyer Regulation's (OLR) $6,881.67 in costs, for a total of $3,440.84.

[¶2] Attorney Stern was licensed to practice law in Wisconsin in 1974. He was privately reprimanded in 1988; publicly reprimanded in 1992; privately reprimanded in 1993; and privately reprimanded in 2008. In a May 2013 per curiam opinion, this court approved the findings and conclusions of a referee's report that adopted a stipulation between the OLR and Attorney Stern; in that stipulation, Attorney Stern pled no [366 Wis.2d 434] contest to misconduct that led to his federal conviction of conspiring to commit money laundering and a federal prison term of one year and one day. This court suspended Attorney Stern's license to practice law for two years, consistent with the parties' stipulation and the referee's recommendation. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stern, 2013 WI 46, 347 Wis.2d 552, 830 N.W.2d 674.

[¶3] In July 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed Attorney Stern's conviction on the ground that the trial court wrongly prevented him from testifying about his own conduct. United States v. Leonard-Allen, 739 F.3d 948, 954-55 (7th Cir. 2013), as amended on denial of rehearing and rehearing en banc (Aug. 29, 2013). Attorney Stern was released from prison after having served approximately six months of his sentence. He later pled guilty to a federal misdemeanor offense of contempt of court that resulted in no further federal prison time.

[¶4] In February 2015, Attorney Stern filed a petition seeking the reinstatement of his law license. In September 2015, the OLR filed a response not opposing the reinstatement petition, but reserving the right to further tailor its recommendation in accordance with the evidence received at a public hearing in late September 2015. After holding the public hearing, the referee filed his report and recommendation in October 2015.

[¶5] SCR 22.31(1)[2] provides the standards to be met for reinstatement. Specifically,

Page 95

the petitioner [366 Wis.2d 435] must show by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that he or she has the moral character to practice law, that his or her resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the administration of justice or subversive to the public interest, and that he or she has complied with SCR 22.26 and the terms of the order of suspension. In addition, SCR 22.31(1)(c) incorporates the statements that a petition for reinstatement must contain pursuant to SCR 22.29(4)(a)-(4m).[3] Thus, the petitioning attorney must [366 Wis.2d 436] demonstrate that the required representations in the reinstatement petition are substantiated.

[¶6] When reviewing referee reports in reinstatement proceedings, we utilize standards of review similar to those we use for reviewing referee reports in disciplinary proceedings. We do not overturn a referee's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. On the other hand, we review a referee's legal conclusions, including whether the attorney has satisfied the criteria for reinstatement, on a de novo basis. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jennings, 2011 WI 45, ¶39, 334 Wis.2d 335, 801 N.W.2d 304; In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Gral, 2010 WI 14, ¶22, 323 Wis.2d 280, 779 N.W.2d 168.

[366 Wis.2d 437] [¶7] The referee found that Attorney Stern demonstrated by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence all of the requirements for reinstatement of his Wisconsin law license. In particular, the referee found that Attorney Stern has not practiced law during the period of his suspension; that he has complied fully with the terms of the order of suspension and will continue to do so until his license is reinstated; that he has maintained competence ...


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