In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Steven J. Sarbacker, Attorney at Law:
Steven J. Sarbacker, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.
We review the report and recommendation of Referee James C.
Boll, approving a partial stipulation filed by the Office of
Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Attorney Steven J. Sarbacker and
concluding that Attorney Sarbacker committed the professional
misconduct alleged by the OLR, as stipulated by the parties.
The referee determined that a 60-day suspension of Attorney
Sarbacker's license to practice law is appropriate.
Upon careful review of this matter, we uphold the
referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law and
agree that a 60-day license suspension is an appropriate
sanction for Attorney Sarbacker's misconduct. We also
find it appropriate to impose the full costs of this
proceeding, which are $1, 375.83 as of June 13, 2017. The OLR
does not seek restitution and no restitution is ordered.
Attorney Sarbacker was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin
in 1995. He practices in Portage, Wisconsin. In 2013,
Attorney Sarbacker received a private reprimand for his
conduct resulting in a misdemeanor conviction for operating
while intoxicated. Private Reprimand No. 2013-15 (electronic
copy available at
2016, he received a private reprimand for his failure to obey
a court order pertaining to child support. Private Reprimand
No. 2016-9 (electronic copy available at
On December 21, 2016, the OLR filed a six count disciplinary
complaint alleging five counts of professional misconduct
involving one client matter and an additional count of
professional misconduct based on criminal misconduct
committed by Attorney Sarbacker. The OLR sought a 60-day
suspension and costs.
The facts, to which the parties have stipulated, are as
follows. In November 2011, D.F. and L.F., a married couple,
obtained a $5, 441.20 money judgment against a tenant in a
Columbia County circuit court proceeding. They retained
Attorney Sarbacker to collect the money judgment. There was
no written fee agreement. In July 2012, Sarbacker advised the
clients in writing that he could no longer pursue their
collection case. He did not charge them.
In 2013, the couple again retained Attorney Sarbacker to
pursue the collection case. Again, there was no written fee
agreement. By June of 2014, Attorney Sarbacker had
successfully arranged for the Ho-Chunk Nation's
Department of Treasury-Payroll Division (DOT-P) to garnish
the wages of the debtor and, in July 2014, Attorney Sarbacker
began receiving weekly garnishment checks on behalf of his
clients. At this time, the outstanding debt was $5, 914.45.
Attorney Sarbacker and the clients agreed that his fee and
costs would total $2, 032.73 and that he would take this
amount from the garnishment checks, then send the balance of
the garnishment funds to the clients. Attorney Sarbacker knew
the total cost of representation exceeded $1, 000, a fact
relevant to whether a written fee agreement was required.
Attorney Sarbacker began depositing garnishment checks into
both his trust account and operating accounts. By December
29, 2014, Attorney Sarbacker had received 24 garnishment
checks totaling $2, 038.30 - $5.57 more than his agreed upon
fee of $2, 032.73. After December 29, 2014, Attorney
Sarbacker received 25 additional garnishment checks,
representing the clients' portion of the garnishment but
he did not disburse these funds to the clients.
By June 2015, the clients had demanded their garnishment
portion from Attorney Sarbacker but Attorney Sarbacker failed
to send them the garnished funds. Accordingly, L.F. contacted
the DOT-P and requested that all remaining garnishment checks
be sent directly to the clients. On June 26, 2015, the DOT-P
began sending weekly garnishment checks directly to the
On July 14, 2015, L.F. sent a certified letter to Attorney
Sarbacker listing the clients' unsuccessful attempts to
contact him. She demanded payment plus interest of the
clients' portion of the garnishment funds in his
possession. Attorney Sarbacker failed to respond.
Finally, by early October 2015, Attorney Sarbacker sent the
clients a cashier's check in the amount of $2, 171.29 and
a receipt documenting $61.25 of incurred costs.
The clients filed a grievance with the OLR. Attorney
Sarbacker failed to promptly respond to the OLR's
requests for information about the grievance.
Based on these events, the OLR alleged and Attorney Sarbacker
has stipulated to five counts of ...