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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Bach

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

November 29, 2016

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Margaret Bach, Attorney at Law:
Margaret Bach, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney publicly reprimanded.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 We review the report of Referee James J. Winiarski recommending that the court publicly reprimand Attorney Margaret Bach for professional misconduct and order her to pay the full costs of this disciplinary proceeding, which total $14, 765.09 as of August 26, 2016.

         ¶2 No appeal has been filed from the referee's report and recommendation, so we review the matter pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 22.17(2)-[1] After considering the referee's report and the record in this matter, we agree with the referee's determination that the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) proved by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that Attorney Bach engaged in some, but not all, of the acts of professional misconduct alleged in the OLR's amended complaint. We agree that a public reprimand is appropriate and we require Attorney Bach to pay the full costs of this proceeding.

         ¶3 This court is familiar with the underlying facts giving rise to this case. It stems from Attorney Bach's efforts to advocate on behalf of her adult son, A.B., who is disabled. A.B. has a rare medical condition that renders him a danger to himself and others. Since approximately 2006, when A.B. turned 18, Attorney Bach has engaged in extensive litigation regarding his placement, level and quality of care, payment for that care, and guardianship.

         ¶4 Initially, Attorney Bach was appointed her son's guardian and cared for him at her home. However, in 2009, following a series of incidents and acrimonious litigation relating to A.B.'s level of care, the court appointed a corporate guardian for him. In 2011, the court appointed a new guardian, ARC of Greater Milwaukee, n/k/a Life Navigators, and appointed Elizabeth Ruthmansdorfer as A.B.'s guardian ad litem. Attorney Bach was aggrieved by these appointments and has challenged them repeatedly in court.

         ¶5 On July 5, 2011, Attorney Bach was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin. She continued to litigate but, as a licensed attorney, she is subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, SCR Ch. 20.

         ¶6 On August 31, 2011, Attorney Bach filed a complaint in federal court against Milwaukee County and several other defendants, naming herself and her son as plaintiffs. Bach v. Milwaukee County, E.D. Wis. Case No. ll-C-828. The federal court dismissed Attorney Bach's complaint and Attorney Bach appealed. On July 24, 2012, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Attorney Bach's appeal. Bach v. Milwaukee County, 490 Fed.Appx. 806 (7th Cir. 2012), cert, denied (Feb. 19, 2013) . The Court held that "Life Navigators and Ruthmansdorfer are the only persons authorized to act on [A.B.'s] behalf." (Emphasis added.)

         ¶7 Meanwhile, on June 21, 2012, the Milwaukee County circuit court judge presiding over A.B.'s guardianship case denied Attorney Bach's request to access the confidential guardianship court file. On July 11, 2012, the court issued a written order confirming this ruling.

         ¶8 On October 16, 2012, the circuit court issued another written order, this time enjoining Attorney Bach:

... from filing, without this Court's prior approval, either on her own behalf and/or on [A.B.'s] behalf and/or on behalf of any other person purporting to represent [A.B.'s] interests, any complaint, petition, motion, or other request for relief (hereinafter 'pleading') in this guardianship proceeding, or in any other proceeding before any other state or federal court or other tribunal (including appellate courts), regarding [A.B.] and/or regarding any person or entity providing care or services to [A.B.] and/or any person or entity who serves as a legal representative to [A.B.], except that Ms. Bach may appeal this Order to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

         ¶9 On April 2, 2013, Attorney Bach filed another complaint in federal court challenging the circuit court's injunction as well as A.B.'s placement and visitation. Attorney Bach did not name A.B. as a plaintiff, but requested the court appoint a guardian ad litem for him. Bach v. Milwaukee County Circuit Court, E.D. Wis. Case No. 13-CV-370. On May 31, 2013, Attorney Bach amended her complaint, naming A.B. as a plaintiff.

         ¶10 In June 2013, in state court, Attorney Bach ordered transcripts of certain proceedings in A.B.'s guardianship case from court reporters. Later that month, the circuit court informed Attorney Bach that the court reporters had been instructed to cease their work, based on the 2012 June and July court orders.

         ¶11 In a June 2013 order, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals warned Attorney Bach that "[b]eing [A.B.'s] mother does not endow her with the right to sidestep, manipulate or disregard the rules by which all litigants must play." Margaret B. v. County of Milwaukee, No. 2012AP1176, unpublished slip op., ¶7 (Wis. Ct. App. Jun. 12, 2013) .

         ¶12 On July 31, 2013, Attorney Bach appealed the circuit court's ruling regarding transcripts in the guardianship proceeding. The court of appeals summarily affirmed, stating:

Proceedings in guardianship cases are confidential by statute, and this court has previously upheld determinations that, because she is not her son's guardian, guardian ad litem, or adversary counsel, Bach has no standing in the guardianship case, no right to review his confidential legal ...

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