In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Shawn G. Rice, Attorney at Law:
Shawn G. Rice, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.
We review the report of Referee Christine Harris Taylor,
concluding that Attorney Shawn G. Rice committed one count of
professional misconduct as alleged in the Office of Lawyer
Regulation's (OLR) complaint. Referee Taylor recommends
the court suspend Attorney Rice's license for a period of
60 days and that we order Attorney Rice to pay the full costs
of this disciplinary proceeding.
No appeal was filed from the referee's report so we
review this matter pursuant to SCR 22.17(2). After completing
our review, we agree that the stipulated facts and the record
are sufficient to establish that Attorney Rice violated SCR
20:8.4(c). We further agree that Attorney Rice's
license should be suspended for 60 days. We accede to the
OLR's conclusion that restitution is not warranted. We
deny Attorney Rice's objection to costs and direct him to
pay the full costs of this disciplinary proceeding which are
$14, 064.72 as of August 29, 2016.
Attorney Rice was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in
1993. He has been subject to professional discipline on one
prior occasion. In 2007, he received a public reprimand for
three counts of professional misconduct related to his
personal involvement in a commercial real estate transaction
in which he made false statements in a deposition and
executed a document falsely reflecting an individual as a
member of an LLC. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against
Rice, 2007 WI 68, 301 Wis.2d 94, 732 N.W.2d 440.
This matter came to the OLR's attention during Rice's
acrimonious divorce proceeding. In 1996, Attorney Rice and
Ms. Liesl M. Testwuide (Ms. Testwuide) were married. In 1992,
when Ms. Testwuide was still unmarried and childless, Ms.
Testwuide's parents created a trust for the benefit of
Ms. Testwuide and her children. Ms. Testwuide was co-trustee
of the trust along with Kenneth Kazmierczak, a business
associate of Ms. Testwuide's father.
In 2010, Ms. Testwuide filed for divorce. In July 2011, while
the divorce was pending, Ms. Testwuide filed a grievance with
the OLR alleging that Attorney Rice had removed over $600,
000 from the trust without proper authorization by forging
Ms. Testwuide's signature and the signature of her
co-trustee. Attorney Rice self-reported the same misconduct
and, in October 2011, Attorney Rice submitted a lengthy
written response to the grievance acknowledging that he
signed documents without proper authorization but asserting
Ms. Testwuide knew and tacitly approved his actions. Ms.
Testwuide and Attorney Rice's divorce judgment was
entered in October 2011; they continued to litigate custody,
placement, and other issues.
On November 21, 2011, Ms. Testwuide filed a civil action
against Attorney Rice and his former law firm, alleging
fraud, conversion, and legal malpractice. Testwuide v.
Rice, 2011CV1184, Sheboygan County. On December 18,
2012, the circuit court granted Rice's motion for summary
judgment, ruling that several claims were barred by the
statute of limitations. In May 2013, a stipulation and order
dismissing the remaining claims against Rice was entered.
On October 2, 2014, the OLR filed a disciplinary complaint
alleging that Attorney Rice violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by forging
the signatures of the co-trustees of the Liesl M. Testwuide
1992 Trust on various checks and documents. Initially, the
OLR sought a six month license suspension. In July 2015,
after pretrial discovery, the OLR and Attorney Rice executed
a "Stipulation Regarding Factual Allegations and
Disciplinary Charge." Attorney Rice admitted that he
violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by preparing and executing, without
authorization, numerous forms, checks and other Trust
documents for a 12-year period during the marriage and
continuing until Ms. Testwuide filed for divorce in 2010.
The referee accepted the stipulation. The parties continued
to dispute the appropriate discipline and conducted
additional discovery, including depositions.
Attorney Rice maintained that, under the circumstances, a
public reprimand was sufficient. On April 15, 2016, days
before a scheduled evidentiary hearing, the OLR reduced its
recommendation from a six-month license suspension to a
60-day license suspension. Attorney Rice continued to assert
that a public reprimand was sufficient, but the parties
agreed to waive the scheduled hearing and permit the referee
to resolve the question of appropriate discipline based on
the stipulation, the existing record, and the parties'
The referee issued her report and recommendation dated August
9, 2016. Neither party appealed.
When we review a referee's report and recommendation in
an attorney disciplinary case, we affirm the referee's
findings of fact unless they are found to be clearly
erroneous, but we review the referee's conclusions of law
on a de novo basis. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against
Inglimo, 2007 WI 126, ¶5, 305 Wis.2d 71, 740 N.W.2d 125.
We determine the appropriate level of discipline to impose
given the particular facts of each case, independent of the
referee's recommendation, but benefiting from it. In re
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Widule, 2003 WI 34');">2003 WI 34,
¶44, 261 Wis.2d 45, 660 N.W.2d 686.
There is no showing that the referee's factual findings
are clearly erroneous and we accept them. The complaint
alleges, Attorney Rice has stipulated, and the record
supports the finding that Attorney Rice arranged for numerous
checks and disbursals from the trust account, without