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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 1, 2018

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Richard W. Voss, Attorney at Law:
v.
Richard W. Voss, Respondent-Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Appellant, In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Richard W. Voss, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,
v.
Richard W. Voss, Respondent-Appellant.

         ATTORNEY reinstatement proceeding. Reinstatement denied.

          For the respondent-respondent (2012AP931-D), respondent-appellant (2014AP2086-D), there were briefs filed by Richard W. Voss, Rhinelander.

          For the complainant-appellant (2012AP931-D), complainant-respondent (2014AP2086-D), there was a brief filed by Julie M. Spoke and Office of Lawyer Regulation, Madison.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 Richard W. Voss has appealed a referee's report recommending the denial of Attorney Voss's petition for reinstatement of his license to practice law in Wisconsin. We agree with the referee that Attorney Voss's license to practice law should not be reinstated at this time. We direct Attorney Voss to pay the costs of the reinstatement proceeding, which totaled $4, 034.75 as of November 13, 2017.

         ¶2 Attorney Voss was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1976 and practiced in Rhinelander. In 2004, he was privately reprimanded for failing to provide competent representation and failing to keep a client reasonably informed. Private Reprimand No. 2004-24 (electronic copy available at https://compendium.wicourts.gov/app/raw/001746.html). In 2006, Attorney Voss was publicly reprimanded for various trust account violations. Public reprimand of Richard W. Voss, No. 2006-7 (electronic copy available at https://compendium.wicourts.gov/ app/raw/OOl86l.html).

         ¶3 In 2014, Attorney Voss's license to practice law was suspended for 18 months for his conduct as the court appointed guardian of the person and estate of an individual suffering from mental illness. This court determined that Attorney Voss committed 11 counts of misconduct by, among other things, converting at least $48, 791.73 of his client's funds either for his own use or to cover expenditures for other client matters, committing various trust account violations, and making misrepresentations to the circuit court about the client's assets. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis.2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190. In 2015, Attorney Voss's law license was suspended for a period of 60 days, to run consecutive to the discipline imposed in 2014. The misconduct at issue in the 2014 case included improprieties in the handling of matters filed in United States Bankruptcy Courts; failing to adequately supervise his staff so as to ensure the documents prepared and filed by staff on behalf of clients conformed in all respects with applicable law and court rules and were in all respects accurate; failing to take reasonable steps to ensure his staff timely informed him and/or clients of case developments, including the payment status of filing fees; trust account violations; and failing to provide the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) with a copy of his trust account transaction register for the period requested of him by the OLR. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2015 WI 104, 365 Wis.2d 442, 871 N.W.2d 859.

         ¶4 Attorney Voss filed a petition for the reinstatement of his license to practice law in March 2016. The OLR filed a response opposing the Petition for Reinstatement. The OLR said its investigation revealed that Attorney Voss's conduct since his suspension has not been exemplary and above reproach and he cannot be safely recommended to the legal profession, the courts, and the public as a person fit to be consulted by others or act in matters of trust or confidence.

         ¶5 The Honorable John B. Murphy was appointed referee. A hearing was held in October 2016. Attorney Voss was the only witness to testify at the hearing.

         ¶6 The referee issued his report and recommendation on November 1, 2016. The referee found that Attorney Voss had met some of the reinstatement criteria. The referee found that Attorney Voss did not practice law during his suspension, kept up on his educational requirements, and met his financial obligations as to reimbursement and payment of client claims and fees. The referee found, however, that Attorney Voss did not meet some of the other reinstatement requirements.

         ¶7 The referee said most importantly, Attorney Voss failed to comply with the Order of Suspension by not properly notifying his clients, by mail, of his suspension and that the cessation of his law practice was a result of the suspension. The referee said while it was true that Attorney Voss did send letters to his bankruptcy clients, those letters made no mention of any suspension or attorney disciplinary action. Rather, the letters simply indicated that Attorney Voss would be "leaving my Law Practice on September 4, 2014." The referee said when questioned about the letters at the evidentiary hearing, Attorney Voss seemed to feel that there was no need to give his bankruptcy clients a reason for why he was leaving his law practice since the end result - the client would need to find a new attorney - would be the same whether or not the clients knew about the suspension. The referee said, "any reasonable reading of the Voss letters makes clear that Voss was trying to give his clients the impression that his winding up of his practice was just a routine matter and was, implicitly, based upon some 'good' reason such as retirement."

         ¶8 The referee said Attorney Voss seemed to feel that his failure to mention the suspension in the letters he sent to clients was merely an oversight because it did not occur to him to mention it at the time. The referee said the record suggests otherwise. The referee noted that SCR 22.26(1) (a) is clear as to the need to establish the nexus between leaving the practice of law and the suspension. The referee said this is not a rule where "substantial compliance" is good enough. The referee opined that failure to use the word "suspension" in the letters to clients meant that SCR 22.26(1)(a) was not complied with.

         ¶9 The referee also noted that Attorney Voss testified at the evidentiary hearing that he became aware that the initial notification letters that his secretary had to send to the bankruptcy clients were erroneously sent out by registered mail rather than certified mail. Once Attorney Voss became aware of this error, he instructed his secretary to resend the letters. The referee said since the only way Attorney Voss could have known of the need to use certified mail was by reading SCR 22.26(1) (a), Attorney Voss's claim that he was unaware of the requirement of stating that a suspension was the cause of his termination of practice was absurd and suggests that Attorney Voss is being disingenuous in his claim that he was ignorant of the provisions of the rule.

         ¶10 The referee went on to note that on September 25, 2014, Attorney Voss signed a document entitled "Winding up of Practice Richard W. Voss, " which was a sworn statement that Attorney Voss provided to this court at the time of his suspension. The referee noted that in the document, Attorney Voss attested that, "[a]11 clients with pending matters in which he was the attorney of record were advised of his inability to continue to represent them after September 4, 2014, the effective date of the suspension." The referee said the wording of this paragraph, along with the language of the letters sent to the bankruptcy clients, leads to ...


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