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Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Atta

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

July 14, 2016

Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
Othman M. Atta, Respondent.


         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney publicly reprimanded.

          BRADLEY, A. W., J. and ABRAHAMSON, J. dissent

          PER CURIAM

         ¶1 We review the report and recommendation of Referee James J. Winiarski approving the stipulation and no contest plea filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Attorney Othman M. Atta. In the stipulation, Attorney Atta pled no contest to eight counts of misconduct as alleged in the complaint filed by the OLR. The parties jointly recommended that the sanction imposed be a public reprimand. The referee agreed that a public reprimand was an appropriate sanction. The referee also recommended that Attorney Atta be ordered to pay the full costs of this disciplinary proceeding, which are $9, 187.41 as of April 4, 2016.

         ¶2 After careful review of the matter, we uphold the referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law and agree that a public reprimand is an appropriate sanction. We further agree that Attorney Atta should bear the full costs of this disciplinary proceeding.

         ¶3 Attorney Atta was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1994 and practices in Milwaukee. He has no prior disciplinary record.

         ¶4 On September 15, 2014, the OLR filed a complaint against Attorney Atta. Attorney Atta filed an answer on October 14, 2014. The referee was appointed on December 15, 2014. The parties' stipulation was filed on February 19, 2016. As part of the stipulation, Attorney Atta withdrew his answer to the complaint and pled no contest to the eight counts of misconduct alleged therein.

         ¶5 This matter arose out of Attorney Atta's representation of BA-B. In April of 2010, Attorney Atta agreed to represent her in a divorce action and also agreed to assist her in immigration matters involving her husband, AAN. Both BAB and her husband were born in Jordan. In the spring of 2009, the couple had discussed the possibility of divorce and AAN had returned to Jordan, received a divorce decree there, and married another woman. In seeking Attorney Atta's assistance, BA-B sought to protect herself, as well as her young daughter, from AAN's actions.

         ¶6 Beginning in September 2010, Attorney Atta's professional relationship with BA-B became increasingly personal, and the two had sexual relations. A consensual sexual relationship had not existed between them prior to the time their attorney-client relationship began. Between April 2012 and February 2013, Attorney Atta and BA-B had numerous telephone conversations, with a majority of the calls being lengthy and after midnight. In one telephone conversation, Attorney Atta told BA-B he had strong feelings for her, discussed one day being married to her, and discussed intimate topics. Attorney Atta went to BA-B's house for dinners. Attorney Atta, BA-B, and her young daughter would also go out for lunch or dinner together at local restaurants.

         ¶7 Attorney Atta's personal communications, interactions, and personal relationship with his client while he continued to represent her in her divorce action created a conflict of interest on Attorney Atta's part. In March 2013, near the end of the divorce proceeding, AAN accused Attorney Atta of having a romantic relationship with BA-B. On March 11, 2013, AAN's attorney emailed Attorney Atta expressing concern that his client was claiming Attorney Atta had some sort of relationship with AB-B. Attorney Atta responded to the email by denying that such a relationship existed and claimed that AAN and his new wife were spreading false rumors.

         ¶8 On March 12, 2013, the circuit court held a final, stipulated hearing in the divorce case. Prior to the hearing, AAN's attorney met with Attorney Atta and the judge in chambers to discuss the concerns raised by AAN. The court asked the parties to state their concerns on the record. AAN's attorney expressed concern that there was a romantic relationship between Attorney Atta and BA-B. Attorney Atta responded by saying that the allegations were "entirely without merit" and he accused AAN and his new wife of "going around the community trying to badmouth me, badmouthing my client, alleging that we are sleeping together, alleging that my client is sleeping with other men, and so forth." At the hearing, the circuit court accepted the terms of the stipulation on all issues, granted the divorce, and ordered Attorney Atta to submit proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a judgment to the court within 30 days.

         ¶9 Attorney Atta and BA-B continued to speak after the divorce hearing, but by May 2013, their relationship had deteriorated. By the end of May 2013, Attorney Atta had not yet filed the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment with the court. On May 24, 2013, BA-B sent Attorney Atta an email expressing concern that the final divorce papers had not yet been prepared. On May 28, BA-B wrote to the court asking for assistance in having the paperwork completed. On May 31, 2013, AAN's attorney emailed Attorney Atta asking him to advise of the status of the matter. Attorney Atta did not respond for over two weeks.

         ¶10 On June 16, 2013, Attorney Atta responded to AAN's attorney's email, saying he would drop off the proposed documents the next day. On June 18, 2013, Attorney Atta forwarded his proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment, apologizing for the delay. Attorney Atta emailed BA-B the proposed documents on July 1, explaining the changes made and advising her on outstanding issues, including past due child support and credit card debt. Without BA-B's consent, Attorney Atta copied his email, including the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment, to his brother, Ihsan Atta. BA-B had met with and been in contact with Attorney Atta's brother. On July 1, 2013, after incorporating subsequent language changes proposed by both attorneys, Attorney Atta sent the final proposed documents to the court. The court signed the documents and submitted them for filing on July 16, 2013.

         ¶11 On August 8, 2013, BA-B filed a telephonic grievance against Attorney Atta, alleging that he intentionally delayed filing the divorce documents after she terminated their relationship. BA-B was also upset that Attorney Atta had copied his brother with the divorce papers, and she asserted that Attorney Atta had taken advantage of her by engaging in a sexual relationship with her while she was in an emotional stage in her life.

         ¶12 On October 5, 2013, the OLR sent Atta a formal notice of investigation asking him to respond to BA-B's allegations. Attorney Atta responded on December 16, 2013, claiming the allegations were completely false. He denied he and BA-B had a sexual relationship and stated that BA-B wanted to marry him and told him if he did not agree to the marriage she would file false accusations against him. As to the late night phone calls, Attorney Atta said he regularly conducted business outside of regular business hours and he knew BA-B stayed up late. Attorney Atta admitted that he met BA-B for coffee, lunch, and dinner, but said he ...

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