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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cohen

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

November 17, 2017

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Steven Cohen, Attorney at Law:
v.
Steven Cohen, Respondent-Petitioner. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,

          SUBMITTED ON BRIEFS ORAL ARGUMENT: June 20, 2017

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST COHEN

          For the respondent-petitioner, there was a brief filed by Steven M. Cohen and Cohen Law Office, Madison.

          For the complainant-respondent there was a brief filed by Denis R. Vogel and Wheeler, Van Sickle & Anderson, S.C., Madison.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 Attorney Steven Cohen has appealed a report filed by Referee James C. Boll, Jr. concluding that Attorney Cohen committed four counts of professional misconduct and recommending that Attorney Cohen's license to practice law in Wisconsin be suspended for four months. Attorney Cohen entered into a stipulation whereby he agreed that the facts alleged in the amended complaint filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) could be used to form a basis for his admissions to the first three counts of misconduct alleged in the amended complaint. In his appeal, Attorney Cohen argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the referee's finding of misconduct with respect to count four of the amended complaint. He also argues that mitigating circumstances support a lesser sanction than the four-month suspension recommended by the referee.

         ¶2 Upon careful review of this matter, we uphold all of the referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law and conclude that a four-month suspension of Attorney Cohen's license to practice law is an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. As is our usual custom, we also find that Attorney Cohen should be required to pay the full costs of this proceeding, which are $8, 608.20 as of July 10, 2017.

         ¶3 Attorney Cohen was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1996. He practices in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2007, he received a private reprimand as the result of a conviction for one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct that stemmed from an altercation involving Attorney Cohen and his wife. See Private Reprimand No. 2007-28 (electronic copy available at https://compendium.wicourts.gov/app/raw/002019.html).

         ¶4 On July 8, 2015, the OLR filed a complaint against Attorney Cohen. Attorney Cohen filed an answer on August 10, 2015. The referee was appointed on October 15, 2015. The OLR filed an amended complaint on March 3, 2016.

         ¶5 Count one of the amended complaint arose out of an incident that occurred in the course of Attorney Cohen's representation of R.S., who is serving a life sentence for a homicide conviction. On October 18, 2013, Attorney Cohen traveled to the Columbia Correctional Institution to meet with R.S. Attorney Cohen carried with him a black bag containing pens, transcripts, and papers. He also brought a white pastry bag containing two crème-filled donuts and hard boiled eggs. Attorney Cohen informed correctional officers that he had brought his lunch with him.

         ¶6 Attorney Cohen met with R.S. for several hours. At some point correctional officers moved them to a different room. When leaving the room, R.S. threw Attorney Cohen's white pastry bag into a trash container. An officer searched the discarded bag and found a leftover donut and a toothbrush package with the toothbrushes removed. A subsequent search of R.S. and his belongings revealed two toothbrushes and a 1.5 ounce container of McCormick brand red pepper. The toothbrushes and pepper had been secreted by Attorney Cohen into the prison in a legal folder.

         ¶7 According to prison authorities, the toothbrushes were heavier than the ones available to inmates at the prison canteen and could be fashioned into shanks. The authorities also concluded that the crushed red pepper could be made into a pepper spray.

         ¶8 When correctional officers interviewed Attorney Cohen about the items, he denied knowing anything about them. Following additional investigation, Attorney Cohen was arrested for delivering contraband into the Columbia Correctional Institution. In February of 2014, the Columbia County district attorney filed a complaint charging Attorney Cohen with one felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate and one misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer.

         ¶9 On November 14, 2014, Attorney Cohen pled no contest and was found guilty of one felony count of delivery of illegal articles to an inmate, one count of misdemeanor obstructing an officer, and one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The circuit court withheld judgment on the felony count pursuant to a deferred entry of judgment agreement. It entered judgment on the two misdemeanor counts. The court deferred sentencing on those two counts and placed Attorney Cohen on probation for two years with conditions including counseling, costs, electronic monitoring, and 60 days of incarceration in the county jail with Huber privileges.

         ¶10 Count one of the OLR's amended complaint alleged:

Count One: By engaging in acts leading to a finding of guilt for delivery of illegal articles to an inmate, and, in addition, for acts leading to convictions for resisting or obstructing an officer and ...

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