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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 30, 2018

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Patrick M. Cooper, Attorney at Law:
v.
Patrick M. Cooper, Respondent. office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST COOPER

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Reinstatement granted, with conditions.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 We review, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 22.33 (3), [1] a report filed by Referee Jonathan V. Goodman, recommending the court reinstate the license of Patrick M. Cooper to practice law in Wisconsin, with conditions. The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) did not appeal the referee's recommendation. After careful review of the matter, we agree that Attorney Cooper's license should be reinstated, with conditions. We also agree with the referee that Attorney Cooper should be required to pay the full costs of this reinstatement proceeding, which are $3, 828.81 as of December 20, 2017.

         ¶2 Attorney Cooper was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1993. He practiced in and around Mequon, Wisconsin, primarily in the field of worker's compensation law.

         ¶3 On March 23, 2007, this court suspended Attorney Cooper's license for three years for 35 separate instances of professional misconduct affecting seven clients and a retained expert. Attorney Cooper's misconduct was serious. It involved multiple violations of SCR 20:8.4 (c), including conversion of client funds; multiple misrepresentations to clients; obtaining an expert's report through dishonesty; issuing at least 17 checks totaling $25, 656.85 from his business account at a time when he knew that his business account was either overdrawn or depleted; depositing client and third party funds into his personal account; failing to notify individuals of his receipt of funds owing to them; failing to keep clients reasonably informed about the status of their cases; failing to respond to reasonable requests for information from his clients; failing to provide clients with sufficient information to make informed decisions regarding their cases; failing to deliver client files to successor counsel; failing to communicate with clients; failing to act with diligence; engaging in improper fee splitting; and failing to cooperate with the OLR's grievance investigations which involved failing to respond to the OLR's requests for information and making material misrepresentations to the OLR. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper, 2007 WI 37, 300 Wis.2d 61, 729 N.W.2d 206. (Cooper I).

         ¶4 In December 2010, Attorney Cooper filed a petition for reinstatement. At that time, the OLR resumed the investigation of nine matters that had been on hold due to Attorney Cooper's previous non-cooperation. Facing additional discipline for these reopened matters, Attorney Cooper stipulated to the dismissal of that reinstatement petition.

         ¶5 On June 26, 2013, this court suspended Attorney Cooper's license for an additional two years for the misconduct committed in connection with the nine reopened matters. This suspension was based upon 42 counts of misconduct, including lack of diligence; failure to communicate with clients and respond to various requests for information; failure to sufficiently explain matters to a client and consult with a client regarding the means of pursuing the client's objectives; failure to return client files; conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, including misrepresentations to a client; failure to obey a court order; failure to notify clients, opposing counsel or tribunals of the suspension of his license to practice law; practicing law while suspended; and failure to cooperate with the OLR's grievance investigations. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cooper, 2013 WI 55, 348 Wis.2d 266, 833 N.W.2d 88. (Cooper II).

         ¶6 The new suspension was imposed retroactively to run consecutive to his 2007 suspension. Attorney Cooper has not practiced law since 2006. His law license is also administratively suspended for failure to pay mandatory bar dues.

         ¶7 On March 30, 2017, Attorney Cooper filed this petition for reinstatement. The OLR received three reference letters from Attorney Cooper's colleagues in the human resources field who have known him since 2013. Each commented positively on Attorney Cooper's integrity and character. In addition, two Milwaukee lawyers who have known Attorney Cooper for approximately 20 years have attested to his conduct and fitness to practice law, and volunteered to serve as mentors should we reinstate his license. The OLR filed a response identifying certain specific concerns that will be discussed but did not oppose Attorney Cooper's reinstatement, subject to certain conditions.

         ¶8 Supreme Court Rule 22.31 (1)[2] provides the standards to be met for reinstatement. Specifically, Attorney Cooper must show by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence that he has the moral character to practice law, that his resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the administration of justice or subversive to the public interest, and that he has complied with SCR 22.2 6 and the terms of the underlying disciplinary order. In addition, SCR 22.29(4) (a)-(k) and (4m)[3] provide additional requirements that a petition for reinstatement shall show. All of these additional requirements are effectively incorporated into SCR 22.31(1).

         ¶9 Referee Goodman was appointed and conducted a public hearing on this reinstatement proceeding on November 8, 2017. The referee filed his report on November 30, 2017, recommending reinstatement with conditions.

         ¶10 The referee found that Attorney Cooper has not practiced law during the period of his license suspension. During the last ten years, while his law license was suspended, Attorney Cooper obtained a Master of Science Degree in Human Resources from Marquette University. He worked as a human resources consultant for Peak Talent Management, a human resources manager for Praxis Life Sciences, and a sales training manager for AT&T.

         ¶11 The referee found that Attorney Cooper has fully complied with the terms of the underlying disciplinary order; he also complied, albeit belatedly, with the requirements set forth in SCR 22.26.[4] Attorney Cooper has paid the costs of his underlying disciplinary and reinstatement proceedings.

         ¶12 The referee found that Attorney Cooper has maintained competence and learning in the law. The record reflects that the Board of Bar Examiners confirmed that he has completed the required 60 hours of mandatory continuing legal education. If reinstated, Attorney Cooper intends to use his law license to practice worker's compensation, employment, and social security disability law.

         ¶13 The referee also found that Attorney Cooper's conduct since the suspension has been exemplary and above reproach and that he has a proper understanding of and attitude toward the standards that are imposed upon members of the bar and will act in conformity with those standards. The referee found that Attorney Cooper can safely be recommended to the legal profession, the courts, and the public as a person fit to be consulted by others and to represent them and otherwise act in matters of trust and confidence and, in general, to aid in the administration of justice as a member of the bar and as an officer of the courts.

         ¶14 Neither party appealed the referee's recommendation. We therefore review the referee's report pursuant to SCR 22.33(3) . When we review a referee's report and recommendation, we will adopt the referee's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Eisenberg, 2004 WI 14, ¶5, 269 Wis.2d 43, 675 N.W.2d 747.

         ¶15 The referee's findings are supported by the record, have not been shown to be clearly erroneous, and we accept them. Attorney Cooper's conduct was extremely serious. However, upon careful review of this entire record, we also accept the referee's conclusions and recommendation that conditional reinstatement is appropriate.

         ¶16 We considered the fact that, in response to Attorney Cooper's reinstatement petition, the OLR expressed concern that Attorney Cooper has at times understated the scope of his ...


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