In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ty Christopher Willihnganz, Attorney at Law:
Ty Christopher Willihnganz, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
disciplinary proceeding. Attorney publicly reprimanded.
review the report of Referee Robert E. Kinney who concluded
that Attorney Ty Christopher Willihnganz's professional
misconduct warrants a public reprimand and recommends that we
require him to pay the full costs of this disciplinary
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) - After considering the
referee's report, the parties' stipulation, and the
record in this matter, we agree that Attorney Willihnganz
engaged in some, but not all, of the acts of professional
misconduct alleged in the Office of Lawyer Regulation's
(OLR) complaint. We agree that a public reprimand is
appropriate and we require Attorney Willihnganz to pay the
full costs of this proceeding, which were $5, 028.97 as of
October 6, 2016.
Attorney Willihnganz was admitted to practice law in
Wisconsin on April 11, 1996. In 2001, his license was
administratively suspended for failure to comply with
continuing legal education (CLE) requirements. In 2004, he
received a public reprimand for failing to abide by a
client's decision concerning the objectives of
representation and failing to consult with the client in
violation of SCR 20:1.2 (a),  and for failure to cooperate with
the OLR's investigation into the matter. In re
Disciplinary Proceedings Against Willihnganz, 2004 WI
31, 270 Wis.2d 229, 676 N.W.2d 473. His law license was
reinstated in June 2007. In 2008, this court imposed a
private reprimand on Attorney Willihnganz for practicing law
during the administrative suspension for non-compliance with
CLE requirements. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against
Willihnganz, No. 2008AP180, unpublished order ( S.Ct.
July 28, 2008).
This proceeding arises from Attorney Willihnganz's
professional involvement with a Green Bay businessman and
family friend, R.V.
In approximately 2010, Attorney Willihnganz, who had taken a
break from the practice of law to pursue other career
interests, returned to Green Bay and the practice of law. He
negotiated an agreement with R.V., whereby R.V. agreed to
provide Attorney Willihnganz with office space for his legal
practice and to pay his State Bar of Wisconsin bar dues and
CLE expenses in exchange for Attorney Willihnganz providing
certain legal services to R.V. and his new energy startup,
The working arrangement proved stressful and Attorney
Willihnganz described it as a "pretty desperate
time" when, in March of 2013, an individual who had
invested $600, 000 in Green Box filed a lawsuit in Brown
County circuit court against R.V. and Green Box, alleging
that his investment was obtained by fraudulent
misrepresentation. Attorney Willihnganz's brief
representation of R.V. and Green Box during his
administrative license suspension gave rise to this
On December 30, 2015, the OLR filed a formal disciplinary
complaint against Attorney Willihnganz seeking a 60-day
suspension of his license to practice law. First, it alleged
that Attorney Willihnganz violated SCR
20:1.16(d) by failing to take steps to protect the
interests of R.V. and Green Box upon the termination of his
representation of them. Second, it alleged that Attorney
Willihnganz violated SCR 22.26(1) (c)  by failing to
promptly provide written notification to the court and
opposing counsel of a June 4, 2013, law license suspension.
Third, it alleged that Attorney Willihnganz violated SCR
31.10(1) and 22.26(2) by practicing law after his law
license was suspended. Fourth and finally, it alleged that
Attorney Willihnganz violated SCR 20:8.4(c) by giving false
testimony in a deposition.
The Honorable Robert E. Kinney was appointed as referee. The
OLR filed a motion for summary judgment. At a July 2016
telephonic hearing on the OLR's motion, Attorney
Willihnganz admitted to count one of the complaint. The
parties indicated that a comprehensive stipulation of facts
Referee Kinney accepted Attorney Willihnganz's admission
to count one of the complaint, found that the complaint
alleged sufficient facts to support the misconduct charge,
and concluded that Attorney Willihnganz committed the
misconduct alleged in count one. The parties reserved the
right to argue whether the stipulated facts substantiated the
remaining allegations of misconduct and the appropriate
The referee conducted a hearing on August 15, 2016. At the
hearing, the parties submitted a comprehensive stipulation of
facts, whereby Attorney Willihnganz reiterated his admission
to the misconduct alleged in count one of the complaint and
agreed that the referee could use the stipulated facts to
determine whether Attorney Willihnganz committed the
misconduct alleged in counts two through four of the
complaint. Attorney Willihnganz testified at the evidentiary
The parties' stipulation and the testimony from the
evidentiary hearing focused on events between March 2013 and
In March 2013, M.A. filed a complaint in Brown County circuit
court against R.V. and Green Box alleging that R.V. used
misrepresentations and false promises to induce M.A. to
invest $600, 000 in Green Box. Attorney Willihnganz filed an
Answer on behalf of the defendants. Discovery commenced.
On June 4, 2013, Attorney Willihnganz's law license was
administratively suspended for failure to comply with
2011-2012 CLE requirements. Attorney Willihnganz told R.V.
about the suspension and urged him to retain new counsel, but
did not promptly provide formal written notification to the
court or to opposing counsel.
In a June 5, 2013, letter to opposing counsel, Attorney
Willihnganz sent some undated discovery answers, stating:
"Attached are the answers to Plaintiffs First Set of
Interrogatories. I will provide you with a signed version as
soon as [R.V.] returns to town."
In a June 27, 2013 letter, opposing counsel responded,
informing Attorney Willihnganz that the defendants'
discovery responses were deficient and reminding him that
defendants had failed to respond to a document request. A
July 12, 2013, letter from opposing counsel reiterated these
Attorney Willihnganz did not inform R.V. of this
correspondence. A motion to compel ensued; Attorney
Willihnganz received notice of a September 20, 2013
On August 13, 2013, Attorney Willihnganz filed a motion to
withdraw as counsel. A hearing on the withdrawal motion was
scheduled for September 30, 2013.
On September 20, 2013, Attorney Willihnganz appeared on
behalf of R.V. and Green Box for the telephonic scheduling
conference on the scheduling conference. During the
conference, Attorney Willihnganz stated that he was not
intending to withdraw his motion, and the scheduling
conference proceeded. Attorney Willihnganz did not inform the
court, the clerk, or opposing counsel that his license was
On September 30, 2013, opposing counsel appeared at the
scheduled hearing on Attorney Willihnganz's motion to
withdraw as counsel. Attorney Willihnganz did not appear.
On October 4, 2013, the circuit court granted the
plaintiff's motion to compel and ordered R.V. and Green
Box to produce the requested documents and to serve responses
to the Interrogatories on or before November 1, 2013.
On or about November 1, 2013, another administrative
suspension was imposed on Attorney Willihnganz's law
license for failure to pay State Bar of Wisconsin dues and
failure to certify compliance with trust account
On November 5, 2013, with discovery still not forthcoming,
plaintiff's counsel moved to strike the defendants'
answer and sought a default judgment.
On January 2, 2014, a new lawyer filed a notice of appearance
on behalf of Green Box. On January 21, 2014, another attorney
filed a notice of appearance on behalf of R.V.
In a January 22, 2014 deposition in the Green Box litigation,
Attorney Willihnganz was asked the following questions and
gave the following answers:
Q. Did you tell him ([R.V.]) why it was you participated in
the scheduling conference when you didn't have a license
to practice law?
A. Yes, I just said, you know, I felt uncomfortable about it;
but since I took the call, I just went through with it.
Q. So did you tell him even though you did that you can't
represent him, he needs to get some other lawyer?
A. I don't remember if I specifically said that. Again, I
thought it was understood that since I did not have a ...