Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Meisel

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

April 26, 2017

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Christopher E. Meisel, Attorney at Law:
v.
Christopher E. Meisel, Respondent-Appellant. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,

          Submitted on Briefs: oral argument: January 11, 2017

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

          For the respondent-appellant there were briefs filed by Terry E. Johnson and Peterson, . Johnson & Murray, S.C., Milwaukee, and oral argument by Terry E. Johnson.

          For the Office of Lawyer Regulation a brief was filed by Matthew J. Price and Foley & Lardner LLP, Milwaukee, and oral argument by Matthew J. Price.

          DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST MEISEL

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶l Attorney Christopher E. Meisel has appealed Referee Hannah Dugan's recommendation that his license to practice law in Wisconsin be suspended for two years for 15 counts of misconduct, which included converting approximately $175, 000 from two estates and two guardianship proceedings. Attorney Meisel stipulated to all counts of misconduct but asserts that, rather than a two-year suspension, a five-month suspension of his law license is an adequate sanction.

         ¶2 Upon careful review of this matter, we uphold the referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law. We conclude, however, that rather than a two-year suspension, Attorney Meisel's license to practice law should be suspended for 18 months. We further agree with the referee that Attorney Meisel should be required to pay the full costs of this proceeding, which are $10, 831.67 as of February 7, 2017. Although the referee recommended that various conditions be imposed upon Attorney Meisel, we find that the imposition of conditions would be better addressed in a future reinstatement proceeding.

         ¶3 Attorney Meisel was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1994. He has no prior disciplinary history. In October of 2006, Attorney Meisel was diagnosed with brain cancer and days later underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor. Following surgery, he received chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which treatments continued until 2008. Although his condition is currently stable, Attorney Meisel will require constant monitoring. He is not able to work long hours. While prior to his brain surgery he was earning over $100, 000 per year, in recent years he has earned approximately $45, 000 per year.

         ¶4 In 2008 Attorney Meisel and his wife decided to pursue international adoption of two children from Guatemala. One of the children was later diagnosed with a number of medical issues, including significant brain formation issues, legal blindness, and learning disabilities. In order to provide that child with the resources she needed, the family moved from the school district in which they were living to a different school district that they believed had better resources to educate the child. The purchase price of the home in the new school district was $125, 000 more than the price of the house the family sold.

         ¶5 In addition to his personal health problems and the medical issues of his daughter, Attorney Meisel was also under financial distress due to a real estate business called King Park Investment Company, LLC, (King Park), which he owned with another man. King Park is a real estate venture in the Marquette University area in Milwaukee.

         ¶6 The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) filed its 15 count complaint against Attorney Meisel on March 10, 2015. Counts one through three of the complaint arose out of Attorney Meisel's handling of the estate of B.T., who died in October 2008. Attorney Meisel was retained to handle the estate and pursue a potential wrongful death claim. In June 2009, he filed a petition for special administration of the estate in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Following a settlement of the wrongful death claim, in March 2011 Attorney Meisel filed a petition for formal administration of the estate. The OLR's complaint alleged that Attorney Meisel disbursed numerous checks from his trust account for the benefit of King Park from funds belonging to the estate.

         ¶7 The specific counts of misconduct alleged in the complaint arising out of B.T.'s estate were as follows:

Count 1: By failing to hold $50, 003.29 in trust belonging to the Estate of B.T., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(b)(1)[1]
Count 2: By converting to his own purposes $50, 003.29 in trust funds belonging to the estate of B.T., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:8.4(c).[2]
Count 3: By depositing $47, 244.20 in personal and law firm funds into his trust account in April 2012, to replace the bulk of the funds that he had converted from the B.T. Estate, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(b) (3) .[3]

         ¶8 Counts 4 through 14 of the OLR's complaint arose out of Attorney Meisel's appointment as guardian of the estates of D.C. and Y.M., step-sisters whose parents died in an automobile accident in February of 2006. D.C. was five years at the time of the accident, and Y.M. was close to one year old. A Milwaukee County probate court commissioner appointed Attorney Meisel as guardian of the girls' estates in October 2007. Attorney Meisel established separate guardianship accounts for the children.

         ¶9 Pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 54.62, a guardian is required to file with the court an annual accounting for a guardianship prior to April 15 of the following year. Amy Wochos, legal counsel and senior administrator for the Milwaukee County Clerk of Circuit Court, testified at the evidentiary hearing before the referee that she oversees filings in probate court. She testified that in 2013 she became aware that an order to show cause had been issued against Attorney Meisel by the probate court because he had failed to file the annual accountings for the children's guardianship.

         ¶10 Ms. Wochos testified that in early 2014 Attorney Meisel came to the probate office and asked to speak with her. She said Attorney Meisel indicated he had taken money from the minor guardianship accounts, that he had self-reported this behavior to the OLR, and that he had either put the money back or was in the process of putting it back and understood he needed to be relieved of his duties as guardian for the girls. Attorney Meisel converted money from the estate of J.D. to replace the funds he took from the guardianship accounts.

         ¶11 OLR's complaint alleged the following counts of misconduct with respect to the two guardianship proceedings and the second estate proceeding:

Count 4: By failing to hold as much as $21, 000 in the D.C. Account at times between March 2009 and November 2012, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(j) (1) .[4]
Count 5: By converting and re-converting D.C. Guardianship funds to his own purposes between March 2009 and March 2012, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:8.4 (c) .
Count 6: By depositing into the D.C. Account $57, 800.61 in King Park funds and funds converted from his trust account and the Estate of J.D., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(j) (1) .
Count 7: By depositing into the D.C. Account $57, 800.61 in King Park funds and funds converted from his trust account and the Estate of J.D., thereby concealing his conversion and re-conversion of funds belonging to D.C, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:8.4(c).
Count 8: By failing to hold as much as $21, 455.25 in the Y.M. Account between March 2009 and November 2012, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15 (j) (1) .
Count 9: By converting and re-converting Y.M. Guardianship funds to his own purposes between March 2009 and March 2012, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:8.4 (c) .
Count 10: By depositing into the Y.M. Account $70, 056.12 in King Park funds and funds converted from his trust account and the Estate of J.D., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(j) (1) .
Count 11: By depositing into the Y.M. Account $70, 056.12 in King Park funds and funds converted from his trust account and the Estate of J.D., thereby concealing his conversion and re-conversion of funds belonging to Y.M., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:8.4 (c),
Count 12: By filing annual accountings with the Milwaukee County Probate Court for the D.C. and Y.M. Guardianships, which failed to disclose the disbursements that he made from those guardianships and included documentation of account balances that had been deliberately, and temporarily, inflated to document the required balances and conceal his conversions, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:3.3(a) (1) .[5]
Count 13: By failing to hold as much as $31, 201.48 in the fiduciary account for the Estate of J.D., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(j) (1) .
Count 14: By converting to his own purposes as much as $31, 201.48 in the fiduciary account for the Estate of J.D., Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:8.4(c).

         ¶12 Count 15 of the OLR's complaint alleged:

Count 15: By failing to maintain a transaction register and client ledgers with running balances, and by failing to perform monthly reconciliations of his trust account, thereby failing to maintain complete records of a trust account, Attorney Meisel violated SCR 20:1.15(f) (1)a., (f)(1)b., and f(i)g.[6]

         ¶13 Attorney Meisel filed an answer to the complaint in April 2015. In December of 2015, Attorney Meisel and the OLR entered into a stipulation whereby Attorney Meisel withdrew his answer to the complaint and pled no contest to each allegation of misconduct set forth in the complaint. The parties agreed that the complaint could serve as the factual basis for the referee's determination of misconduct and the referee's recommendation as to discipline. The parties further agreed that the evidentiary hearing would be limited to taking additional evidence and argument to facilitate the referee's recommendation to this court as to the appropriate amount of discipline. The OLR's complaint had sought a three-year suspension of Attorney Meisel's law license.

         ¶14 The evidentiary hearing took place on January 25, 2016. In addition to Amy Wochos, Heather Coning, an insurance and bonding agent, and Attorney Meisel testified in person. Dr. Mark G. Malkin testified by telephone.

         ¶15 Attorney Meisel testified that if he were to lose his license to practice law for two or three years, he did not believe he would ever be able to return to the practice of law. When asked by the referee about his conversion of the funds, Attorney Meisel said:

I did it. It was wrong. The whole world was in a fog. I know I did it - it was wrong. I was bonded at all times. I'm not making a justification for it, but I didn't think it would come to a problem. . . .
I knew I did it. I have never denied that. Why? It's hard to say. I was juggling so many things that I just did it without really thinking, you know. I just figured that money would be coming in or - I don't know. It was dumb.

         ¶16 Dr. Malkin's December 31, 2015, letter/report to Attorney Terry E. Johnson, Attorney Meisel's counsel in this matter, was received into evidence at the hearing. The letter indicates that Dr. Malkin was Attorney Meisel's attending neuro- oncologist from November 2006 through August 2013, at which time Dr. Malkin relocated from Milwaukee to Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Malkin's report explains Attorney Meisel's medical history. Dr. Malkin said:

I am aware, from conversations with Mr. Meisel's attorneys, of some of the circumstances surrounding the fiscal decisions Mr. Meisel made which have resulted in the disciplinary proceedings brought against him. I am aware that he missed time from work which would have left him with less time and more stress to complete the work which he had taken on. I am aware that he turned away clients because he could not keep up with the case load to which he had been accustomed before he became ill. I am aware that his practice declined, adding financial burden and stress. I am aware that certain real-estate investments were devalued, and that he fell out with his partner, adding further stress. I am aware that he did not share these concerns at work with his wife, and he certainly didn't with me. I am aware that he was not willing to seek professional help to manage distress. Under these circumstances anybody would have been overwhelmed, and certainly Mr. Meisel was especially susceptible to making errors in judgment as a maladaptive strategy to deal with the multiple stressors, given his medical history, the medications he was on, and the permanent damage to his brain from the tumor and treatment thereof. It was a 'perfect storm'....
All of us are subject to stress, and much of this stress is external and beyond our control. Mr. Meisel is no different. However, his brain tumor and the treatment thereof created brain damage that predisposed him to inappropriate, non-constructive cognitive responses to stress. I cared for Mr. Meisel for almost seven years, and therefore I believe I know him quite well. I believe the behavior that led to the inappropriate fiscal decisions that he made was an aberration and not likely to repeat itself. That said, it is my recommendation that he undergo a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, .... I recommend that he receive formal psychotherapy to help him manage stress in a constructive way, .... Finally, I recommend that Mr. Meisel continue to be followed on a scheduled basis by a neuro-oncologist with MRI scans of the brain to monitor his brain tumor status, ....

         ¶17 In his telephone testimony at the evidentiary hearing, Dr. Malkin said:

Well, I would sum it up by saying that we have a situation here where, beyond the usual stressors in anyone's life, Mr. Meisel was affected by a potentially fatal brain tumor, which necessitated surgery to remove the tumor and part of the surrounding brain, radiation therapy, which affected the brain volume and function, chemotherapy, and other medications to control symptoms of the brain tumor, like seizures, and the stressors, like anxiety and depression, are associated with this diagnosis and treatment, all of which conspired to create a perfect storm such that his injured ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.