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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Nora

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 30, 2018

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Wendy Alison Nora, Attorney at Law:
Wendy Alison Nora, Respondent-Appellant. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,

          Oral Argument: November 7, 2017

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

          For the respondent-appellant, there were briefs and an oral argument by Wendy Alison Nora and Access Legal Services, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

          For the complainant-respondent, there was a brief and an oral argument by Paul W. Schwarzenbart on behalf of the Office of Lawyer Regulation, Madison.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 Attorney Wendy Alison Nora appeals from the report of the referee, Attorney Lisa C. Goldman, who found that Attorney Nora had committed four violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys and recommended that Attorney Nora's license to practice law in Wisconsin be suspended for one year.[1]

         ¶2 Having heard oral argument and having fully reviewed this matter, we conclude that the referee's factual findings are not clearly erroneous and that those findings support the legal conclusion that Attorney Nora committed the four counts of professional misconduct alleged in the Office of Lawyer Regulation's (OLR) amended complaint. We further determine that the serious nature of Attorney Nora's misconduct and her continued refusal to acknowledge her improper use of the judicial system requires a one-year suspension of her license to practice law in this state.

         ¶3 Attorney Nora was admitted to the practice of law in this state in June 1975. She was also licensed to practice law in the state of Minnesota in 1985. She currently practices law under the name Access Legal Services in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

         ¶4 Attorney Nora has been the subject of professional discipline in this state on one prior occasion. In 1993 this court suspended Attorney Nora's license to practice law in Wisconsin for 30 days, as discipline reciprocal to that imposed by the Supreme Court of Minnesota. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Nora, 173 Wis.2d 660, 495 N.W.2d 99 (1993) (Nora I) .[2]

         ¶5 The allegations of misconduct in this case arise out of a foreclosure action in the Dane County circuit court against a residential property owned by Attorney Nora (the foreclosure action) and three subsequent civil actions filed by Attorney Nora against the circuit court judge and opposing counsel involved in the foreclosure action. An understanding of some of the procedural history of the foreclosure action, as found by the referee or which is undisputed, is necessary to understand the misconduct findings against Attorney Nora.

         ¶6 On March 3, 2009, the law firm of Gray and Associates, SC (the Gray firm) filed a foreclosure action[3] against Attorney Nora's residential property on behalf of Residential Funding Corporation (RFC), which was a related entity of GMAC Mortgage Group LLC. Shortly after the initiation of the foreclosure action, the law firm of Bass & Moglowsky, SC (the Bass firm) also appeared as co-counsel on behalf of RFC. Judge Juan B. Colas was assigned to preside over the foreclosure action.

         ¶7 In July 2009, after Attorney Nora had filed a number of motions and an answer to the complaint, Attorney David Potteiger of the Bass firm filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of the foreclosure of the mortgage by RFC.

         ¶8 In August 2009 there were discussions between Attorney Nora and RFC/GMAC regarding the execution of a possible Foreclosure Repayment Agre ement (the Agreement) that RFC/GMAC had offered to Attorney Nora. The following facts were found by the referee based on Attorney Nora's admission of the facts alleged in the OLR's amended complaint, either through admissions in Attorney Nora's answer to the amended complaint or through an oral admission during argument on OLR's motion for summary judgment.

         ¶9 On August 23, 2009, Attorney Nora executed a copy of the Agreement, but she had modified a number of material terms. Specifically, she had written into the Agreement that she reserved the right to challenge the amount that remained due on the note and that she also reserved the right to assert counterclaims against RFC/GMAC.

         ¶10 After consulting with his client, on August 25, 2009, Attorney Potteiger "informed [Attorney] Nora in writing that the reservation of her counterclaims found in [Attorney] Nora's Foreclosure Repayment Agreement counteroffer was rejected" and that "no settlement offer existed."[4] Specifically, Attorney Potteiger explained in an affidavit that he had sent an email to Attorney Nora at 4:20 p.m. on August 25, 2009, advising her of his client's rejection of her counteroffer. At the time that the referee held a hearing on the OLR's summary judgment motion, Attorney Nora did not claim that she had failed to receive Attorney Potteiger's August 25, 2009 email.

         ¶11 At approximately 9:44 a.m. on August 26, 2009, Attorney Nora sent a letter and a copy of the Agreement to Judge Colas via facsimile transmission. Her letter said that as a result of the Agreement, proceedings in the foreclosure action "are stayed." Even if the Agreement was not then in effect, Attorney Nora's letter implied that an agreement was imminent, which still required the foreclosure action to be stayed. The referee found that this was a knowing misrepresentation, as Attorney Nora knew when she sent the letter that her counteroffer had been rejected and the offer of an Agreement had been withdrawn by RFC.

         ¶12 On September 21, 2009, Judge Colas denied Attorney Nora's request to schedule oral argument on RFC's summary judgment motion, but extended the time for her to file a response until October 1, 2009. Rather than file a summary judgment response, however, three days before that response was due Attorney Nora filed a personal bankruptcy petition, which stayed the foreclosure action.

         ¶13 The bankruptcy stay was lifted on December 18, 2009, which meant that the remaining few days to file a response to the summary judgment motion in the foreclosure action resumed running. Attorney Nora, however, did not file a response to RFC's summary judgment motion. On January 6, 2010, Attorney Potteiger notified Judge Colas in writing (with a copy to Attorney Nora) that the bankruptcy stay had been lifted. Attorney Potteiger sent a subsequent letter to Judge Colas indicating that, in light of the lifting of the stay and Attorney Nora's failure to file a response, the court could consider the summary judgment motion as being unopposed. Between January 14-22, 2010, Attorney Nora filed a number of motions and what she labeled as a "verified response" to the summary judgment motion. On February 9, 2010, Judge Colas granted RFC's motion for summary judgment allowing foreclosure of Attorney Nora's residential property. He struck Attorney Nora's "verified response" both because it was untimely and because it was a "mixture of argument, motions, and allegations of fact" rather than a brief with properly developed arguments and supporting affidavits. Attorney Nora did not appeal the grant of summary judgment of foreclosure.

         ¶14 On February 22, 2010, after the grant of summary judgment, Attorney Nora filed a request in the foreclosure action seeking accommodations on account of an alleged disability.[5] She subsequently requested Judge Colas to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for her. On March 29, 2010, Judge Colas denied Attorney Nora's request for reconsideration of his order granting summary judgment of foreclosure to RFC and her request for the appointment of a GAL. His order noted that all essential legal work in the case had concluded prior to Attorney Nora's request for an accommodation or the appointment of a GAL, that she had failed to present evidence meeting the standard for the appointment of a GAL, and that she had offered no legal authority for applying her accommodation and GAL requests retroactively to allow her to relitigate the summary judgment motion. Judge Colas denied a subsequent motion by Attorney Nora in which she sought reconsideration of the denial of her request for a GAL and sought the recusal of Judge Colas.

         ¶15 On November 15, 2010, almost eight months after Judge Colas had granted summary judgment against Attorney Nora, she sued him personally in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (the Western District Court), alleging that he had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as revised. Her claim essentially was that Judge Colas had violated her federal statutory rights to disability accommodations due to an alleged back injury by not granting her extensions of time to respond to RFC's filings in the foreclosure action. As part of her request for relief, she asked the federal court to remove Judge Colas from the foreclosure action and to vacate the summary judgment order of foreclosure. Within a week of filing the federal complaint against Judge Colas, she filed a motion in the ...

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