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In re Templin

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 29, 2016

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Thor Templin, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
v.
Thor Templin, Respondent

          Attorney's license suspended.

          OPINION

         [367 Wis.2d 352] ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding.

         PER CURIAM.

          [¶1] We review the report and recommendation of Referee Hannah C. Dugan that the license of Attorney Thor Templin be suspended for a period of six months for professional misconduct and that he pay the full costs of this proceeding, which are $7,564.50 as of October 19, 2015. The referee also recommends that Attorney Templin be required to make restitution totaling $500 to two clients and that he be required to complete six hours of continuing legal education (CLE), concentrating on civil procedure and/or appellate practice and approved by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), as a precondition to reinstatement.

          [¶2] Upon careful review of the matter, we adopt the referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law. We agree that a six-month suspension of Attorney Templin's license is an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. We also conclude that the full costs of the proceeding should be assessed against him, and we also agree that he should be required to make restitution [367 Wis.2d 353] totaling $500 to two clients and that he should be required to complete six hours of CLE.

          [¶3] Attorney Templin was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 2008 and practices in Milwaukee. His disciplinary history consists of a consensual private reprimand for failing to act diligently and failing to communicate appropriately in a client matter, and for failing to return files. Private Reprimand 2011-04.

          [¶4] On February 12, 2015, the OLR filed

Page 108

a complaint alleging that Attorney Templin committed 12 counts of misconduct involving four clients.

          [¶5] Attorney Templin filed an answer to the complaint on March 13, 2015. Referee Dugan was appointed on March 31, 2015. On July 2, 2015, the parties sent the referee a stipulation that included a withdrawal of Attorney Templin's answer and his plea of no contest to all counts of misconduct. The parties sent the referee an amended stipulation on July 6, 2015. The amended stipulation provided that the referee could use the factual allegations of the complaint as an adequate basis in the record for a determination of misconduct as to all 12 counts.

          [¶6] The parties jointly recommended that the referee determine that a recommended sanction in the matter be a four-month suspension of Attorney Templin's Wisconsin law license. The parties further stipulated that Attorney Templin should be required to make restitution to two clients in the total amount of $500 and that he be required to complete six hours of CLE concentrating on civil procedure and/or appellate practice, with the coursework to be approved by the OLR, as a precondition to his reinstatement. Attorney Templin represented that he fully understands the misconduct allegations; that he fully understands his right to contest the matter; that he fully [367 Wis.2d 354] understands the ramifications of his entry into the stipulation; that he fully understands that he has the right to counsel and has chosen to represent himself; and that his entry into the stipulation is made knowingly and voluntarily and is not the product of plea-bargaining.

          [¶7] The referee issued her report and recommendation on September 29, 2015. The referee found that the OLR had met its burden of proof with respect to all counts of misconduct alleged in the complaint.

          [¶8] Counts 1-5 of the OLR's complaint arose out of Attorney Templin's representation of J.S. J.S. was divorced from M.S. in July 2008. Attorney Templin commenced his representation of J.S. in December 2008. In August 2011, approximately three years after the divorce judgment, Attorney Templin filed a notice of motion and motion for relief from the judgment of divorce or, in the alternative, to set aside the judgment of divorce for fraud on the court. Attorney Templin's motion challenged M.S.'s financial disclosures.

          [¶9] On October 10, 2011, M.S.'s attorney sent a letter to Attorney Templin, which included a motion for sanctions requesting that Attorney Templin withdraw his frivolous pleadings. The motion was based on legal grounds that included Wis. Stat. § 806.07, requiring a motion for relief from judgment to be filed within one year of the judgment.

          [¶10] On October 25, 2011, Attorney Templin filed an amended notice of motion and motion for relief from the judgment of divorce or to set aside the judgment of divorce for fraud on the court or, in the alternative, to create a trust under Wis. Stat. § 767.127(5). On November 1, 2011, a hearing was held before Calumet County Family Court Commissioner James Fitzgerald. The court commissioner determined [367 Wis.2d 355] that Attorney Templin's motion was not timely filed; that at least one of Attorney Templin's arguments involved " great leaps of reasoning that did not make sense; " and that there was no basis in fact for most of the allegations made by J.S. and that such allegations were frivolous. Accordingly, Attorney Templin's amended motion was dismissed with prejudice.

          [¶11] Attorney Templin filed a request for a de novo hearing. A hearing was

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conducted before Judge Wilber Warren III on March 27, 2012. Judge Warren issued a decision in August 2012 denying the motion to reopen the judgment and also denying the imposition of a constructive trust. Judge Warren found the claims for relief to be frivolous. In a September 10, 2012 order, Judge Warren ordered J.S. and/or Attorney Templin to pay $6,526.22 in attorneys fees to M.S.

          [¶12] J.S. filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in April 2014, attempting to discharge the " attorneys fees" sanction. Attorney Templin's firm represented J.S. M.S.'s new attorney advised that the attorneys fees obligation was not a dischargeable debt under bankruptcy laws.

          [¶13] M.S. filed a grievance against Attorney Templin with the OLR. Attorney Templin repeatedly failed to respond to the OLR's requests for a response to the grievance. Attorney Templin did finally respond on September 12, 2013.

          [¶14] The OLR's complaint alleged the following counts of misconduct with respect to Attorney Templin's representation of J.S.:

[Count 1] By filing a motion (and amended motion) for relief from a divorce judgment years after the [367 Wis.2d 356] applicable time limits had passed and advancing arguments devoid of factual or legal support, Templin violated SCR 20:1.1.[1]
[Count 2] By knowingly filing a motion (and amended motion) for relief from a divorce judgment years after the applicable time limits had passed and advancing arguments unwarranted under existing law, with no good faith argument existing for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, Templin violated SCR 20:3.1(a)(1).[2]
[Count 3] By filing a motion (and amended motion) for relief from a divorce judgment years after the applicable time limits had passed and advancing arguments devoid of factual or legal support, by later filing a bankruptcy action on behalf of the client seeking to discharge his own sanction obligations imposed by the trial court, and by filing the bankruptcy action one day prior to a scheduling hearing on a Contempt/Show Cause proceeding on the underlying sanction order, Templin took multiple actions on behalf of his client when he knew or when it was obvious that such action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another, in violation of SCR 20:3.1(a)(3).[3]
[367 Wis.2d 357] [Count 4] By failing to comply with the September 10, 2012 trial court sanction order requiring Templin and his client (jointly and severally) to pay $6,526.22 to the client's former husband within 30 days of the order, Templin knowingly disobeyed an obligation of a tribunal, in violation of SCR 20:3.4(c).[4]

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[Count 5] By failing to provide relevant information to OLR in a timely fashion, Templin violated SCR 22.03(2),[5] which is enforceable under the Rules of Professional Conduct through SCR 20:8.4(h).[6]

          [¶15] Counts 6-8 of the OLR's complaint arose out of Attorney Templin's representation of A.H. In 2009, the State of Wisconsin filed a petition to terminate [367 Wis.2d 358] A.H.'s parental rights to his son. Following a dispositional hearing in February 2011, A.H. involuntarily lost his parental rights to his son. Following an appeal and a subsequent trial on remand, the trial court entered an order terminating A.H.'s parental rights to his son. A.H. appealed this order. His appointed appellate counsel filed a no-merit brief on A.H.'s behalf.

          [¶16] On December 5, 2012, the court of appeals entered an order summarily affirming the trial court's order terminating A.H.'s parental rights.

          [¶17] Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.24(1), a motion for reconsideration of a court of appeals' decision must be filed within 20 days of the court of appeals' order. Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 808.10(1), a petition for review must be filed with this court within 30 days of the court of appeals' decision. A failure to comply with the 30-day deadline for filing a petition for review deprives this court of subject matter jurisdiction.

          [¶18] On January 4, 2013, A.H. met with Attorney Templin and paid him $300 in cash to review his case file for purposes of possibly filing a petition for review. A.H. believed he had until January 7, 2013, to file a petition for review. In fact, the filing deadline was January 4, 2013. Attorney Templin failed to advise A.H. that, subsequent to January 4, 2013, nothing further could be done on the case.

          [¶19] A.H. attempted to reach Attorney Templin in January and February of 2013 without success. In March 2013, A.H. submitted documents to Attorney Templin in an attempt to show his continued efforts to see his son. In April 2013, Attorney Templin met with A.H., returned his files, and stated there was nothing further to be done in the matter.

          [367 Wis.2d 359] [¶20] A.H. filed a grievance with the OLR against Attorney Templin. Attorney Templin failed to respond to the OLR's requests for a response to the grievance.

          [¶21] The OLR's complaint alleged the following counts of misconduct with respect to Attorney Templin's representation of A.H.:

[Count 6] By failing to respond promptly to [A.H.'s] multiple requests for information regarding his case, Templin ...

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