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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Steffes

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

April 10, 2018

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Richard W. Steffes, Attorney at Law:
v.
Richard W. Steffe s, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Plaintiff,

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST STEFFES

          PER CURIAM.

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license revoked.

         ¶1 Attorney Richard W. Steffes has filed a petition for consensual license revocation pursuant to SCR 22.19.[1] The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) has filed a complaint against Attorney Steffes, alleging that he committed professional misconduct. He is also the subject of a pending OLR grievance that has not yet been fully investigated. Attorney Steffes states in his petition that he cannot successfully defend against the allegations of professional misconduct.

         ¶2 Attorney Steffes was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1970. He resides in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. His law license has been temporarily suspended since March 2017 for failure to cooperate with the OLR in these investigations. Attorney Steffes' law license is also administratively suspended for failure to pay bar dues and failure to comply with trust account certification requirements.

         ¶3 Attorney Steffes' disciplinary history consists of a single public reprimand issued in 2014 for allowing his non-lawyer son to use his trust account. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Steffes, 2014 WI 128, 359 Wis.2d 299, 856 N.W.2d 824.

         ¶4 The matter giving rise to this petition stems from Attorney Steffes' misconduct as guardian for R.S. R.S. was born in 1927 and has been adjudicated incompetent. He has had a court appointed guardian for decades.

         ¶5 Attorney Steffes was appointed R.S.' successor guardian in 1975. In 2015, it was determined that Attorney Steffes had not filed required accountings or annual reports pertaining to the guardianship from 2010 to 2013. He was directed to do so. Attorney Steffes requested and received a one-month extension, but then failed to file the documents.

         ¶6 In September 2015, the Dodge County Department of Human Services filed a petition asking the circuit court to remove Attorney Steffes as R.S.' guardian because of his failure to file these accountings and condition reports.

         ¶7 On September 21, 2015, the court appointed a guardian ad litem for R.S. The guardian subpoenaed Attorney Steffes in an attempt to obtain information about the matter, but Attorney Steffes failed to respond to the subpoena. The guardian then filed a motion to compel discovery to obtain records necessary to review R.S.' accounts.

         ¶8 On October 21, 2015, the circuit court removed Attorney Steffes as guardian and ordered him to file an accounting by November 23, 2015. The court appointed G&L Advocacy of Portage as successor guardian for R.S.

         ¶9 On November 23, 2015, Attorney Steffes filed a final accounting, but failed to provide bank records. On December 3, 2015, Attorney Steffes appeared at a scheduled review hearing, but failed to bring the financial records. The court ordered Attorney Steffes to turn over all of the financial records by December 11, 2015. Meanwhile, the acting guardian ad litem subpoenaed financial records directly from the bank.

         ¶10 Over the next several months, Attorney Steffes requested and received several adjournments. In May 2016, the guardian ad litem filed a report with the court identifying several concerns with Attorney Steffes' handling of the R.S. guardianship. The report stated that Attorney Steffes had: (1) given R.S. monthly payments in cash, leaving no way for Attorney Steffes to establish that R.S. received the entire amount to which he was entitled or that R.S. used the funds to care for himself; (2) taken money from R.S.' account that was not given to R.S. or used for his benefit; (3) taken money from R.S.' account that went directly to Attorney Steffes; (4) failed to monitor R.S.' bank account, resulting in monthly maintenance fees when the account balance fell below a certain level; (5) failed to apply for a homestead credit on R.S.' behalf; and (6) paid medical expenses from R.S.' account that should have been covered by insurance.

         ¶11 Attorney Steffes requested and received time to respond and then requested several extensions until the circuit court ordered Attorney Steffes to file his written response no later than July 21, 2016 or default judgment would be entered against him.

         ¶12 On July 21, 2016, Attorney Steffes filed a response to the report. Attorney Steffes said that he issued checks payable to cash in order to purchase money orders that were mailed to R.S. He said that R.S. required payment in the form of money orders because they were accepted at his check cashing station. He said that some of the payments to him were for his guardianship fees. He said that two checks from R.S.' account were inadvertently written to his firm by a new secretary, but were immediately returned to R.S.' account when the error was discovered. Attorney Steffes said he had no recollection of the purpose of several of the checks written to his firm, but stated that at no time did he ...


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