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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Petersen

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

December 15, 2017

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Michael D. Petersen, Attorney at Law:
v.
Michael D. Petersen, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 We review a report and recommendation of Referee William Eich approving a stipulation filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and Attorney Michael D. Petersen. In the stipulation, Attorney Petersen stipulated to the facts underlying the nine counts of misconduct alleged in the OLR's complaint and joined the OLR in jointly recommending a one-year suspension of Attorney Petersen's license to practice law in Wisconsin. The referee agreed that a one-year suspension was an appropriate sanction for Attorney Petersen's misconduct.

         ¶2 Upon careful review of the matter, we uphold the referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law and agree that a one-year suspension is an appropriate sanction. As is our normal practice, we also find it appropriate to impose the full costs of this disciplinary proceeding, which are $2, 110.29 as of May 24, 2017, on Attorney Petersen. Since Attorney Petersen has already made restitution to his client, the OLR does not seek a restitution order.

         ¶3 Attorney Petersen was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 2008. He practices in Appleton. He has no prior disciplinary history.

         ¶4 On March 21, 2016, the OLR filed a complaint against Attorney Petersen alleging nine counts of misconduct. Attorney Petersen filed an answer on May 19, 2016. The referee was appointed on June 6, 2016. The parties' stipulation was filed on October 21, 2016.

         ¶5 As part of the stipulation, Attorney Petersen admitted the facts alleged in the OLR's complaint. All nine counts of misconduct arose out of Attorney Petersen's representation of K.F. In November 2012, K.F. retained Attorney Petersen to represent him in two legal matters. K.F.'s father, R.F., hired and paid Attorney Petersen and assisted K.F. in communicating with Attorney Petersen throughout the representation.

         ¶6 In May 2014, Attorney Petersen reached a plea agreement with Outagamie County Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Andrew Maier whereby K.F. would plead to a Class C felony - attempted armed robbery - and two misdemeanor charges would be dismissed. Attorney Petersen failed to truthfully inform K.F. about the terms of the state's plea offer.

         ¶7 K.F. decided he was willing to enter a plea to a Class H felony - theft from a person. The plea hearing was held on May 23, 2015. Attorney Petersen misled K.F. by telling him to plead no contest to the Class C felony and that the charge would be amended after the hearing to a reduced charge of the Class H felony. K.F. believed he was entering a plea to the Class H felony.

         ¶8 Immediately after the plea hearing, when K.F. reviewed the paperwork provided to him in court, K.F. called R.F., who was then with Attorney Petersen, to inform them that the charges and paperwork were incorrect. Attorney Petersen assured K.F. and R.F. that the charge would be amended within two weeks.

         ¶9 Despite knowing that the charge would not be amended, Attorney Petersen repeatedly misrepresented to K.F. and R.F. in the following months that he was working with ADA Maier and the judge to obtain the paperwork to get the charge amended.

         ¶10 On June 4, 2014, Attorney Petersen told R.F. that the clerk of court had amended the felony charge. This representation was untrue. The following day, R.F. emailed Attorney Petersen asking for an update on the amended charge. Attorney Petersen responded by email informing R.F. that he had called ADA Maier and ADA Maier was going to check on the status of the amendment because that was something only the district attorney could file. Attorney Petersen's representation was untrue as he had never called ADA Maier.

         ¶11 Attorney Petersen falsely represented to R.F. that ADA Maier had agreed in writing to amend the charge. He claimed he had received an email from ADA Maier and had forwarded it R.F. R.F. never received any such email.

         ¶12 At a meeting on or about June 11, 2014, R.F. asked Attorney Petersen for a copy of the email that Attorney Petersen claimed he had received from ADA Maier saying that ADA Maier had agreed to amend the charges. Attorney Petersen provided R.F. with a copy of an email he claimed he received on June 6, 2014, in which ADA Maier purportedly wrote, "After we talked this morning and I reviewed the defendant's file, the charge was amended down from a (sic) Armed Robbery to theft from a Person as PTAC." ADA Maier did not author this email, nor had he agreed to amend K.F.'s conviction. Attorney Petersen falsified the ADA Maier email, which he provided to R.F.

         ¶13 On June 23, 2014, R.F. emailed Attorney Petersen requesting an update on the amended charges. In response, Attorney Petersen spoke with R.F. and told him not to be concerned about the amendment of the charge. He said the district attorney had processed the paperwork and it was with the judge for processing. These representations were untrue.

         ¶14 On June 24, 2014, Attorney Petersen filed a motion for sentence credit. On July 10, 2014, the court signed an order granting K.F.'s sentence credit.

         ¶15 On July 18, 2014, Attorney Petersen sent R.F. an email saying he had talked directly with the judge that morning and the judge had assured Attorney Petersen that the paperwork would be completed by the next Friday. The email also said that ADA Maier was available and that both Attorney Petersen and ADA Maier had explained the situation and lack of objections to amending the charge to the judge. These representations were untrue.

         ¶16 On more than one occasion in August 2014, R.F. sent Attorney Petersen emails inquiring about the status of the amended charge. Attorney Petersen did not respond until August 22, 2104, when he emailed R.F. saying he was waiting to hear from the court about the amendment. Attorney Petersen claimed, "the judge refuses to talk to me about this case unless ADA Andrew Maier is present, and he has been out of town recently and returns tomorrow." These representations were untrue.

         ¶17 On September 5, 2014, R.F. and Attorney Petersen exchanged emails about filing an appeal. R.F. asked Attorney Petersen to call him because he had numerous questions and was not sure if an appeal should be filed if the amended charges would soon be recorded. Attorney Petersen spoke with R.F. and mentioned writing a letter to the judge or the district attorney about the delay.

         ¶18 On September 22, 2014, R.F. emailed Attorney Petersen about the continued delays and said he was considering contacting the Attorney General, the State Bar, or the judge directly. On September 26, 2014, Attorney Petersen caused the clerk to schedule a motion hearing on the court's calendar for October 7, 2014, although no corresponding motion was filed. Attorney Petersen told R.F. that the purpose for the hearing was to amend K.F.'s conviction. Attorney Petersen later cancelled the hearing and told R.F. that the matter could be ...


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