In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against James M. Schoenecker, Attorney at Law:
James M. Schoenecker, Respondent-Appellant. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent, In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against James M. Schoenecker, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,
James M. Schoenecker, Respondent-Appellant.
Submitted on Briefs: oral argument: March 12, 2018
PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT OF SCHOENECKER
reinstatement proceeding. Reinstatement denied.
the respondent-appellant, there were briefs filed by Richard
J. Cayo, Stacie H. Rosenzweig, and Hailing & Cayo, S.C.,
Milwaukee. There was an oral argument by Richard J. Cayo.
the complainant-respondent, there was a brief filed by Julie
M. Spoke, William J. Weigel, and Office of Lawyer Regulation,
Madison. There was an oral argument by William J. Weigel.
Attorney James M. Schoenecker has appealed Referee James W.
Mohr Jr.'s recommendation that Attorney Schoenecker's
petition for the reinstatement of his license to practice law
in Wisconsin be denied. Upon careful review, we agree with
the referee that Attorney Schoenecker has failed to meet his
burden of proof to establish the requirements for
reinstatement at this time. Accordingly, we accept the
referee's recommendation that the petition for
reinstatement be denied. However, we determine that Attorney
Schoenecker can again petition for reinstatement six months
after the date of this opinion. As is our usual practice, we
further conclude that Attorney Schoenecker should be required
to pay the full costs of this reinstatement proceeding, which
are $6, 809.66 as of March 23, 2018.
Attorney Schoenecker was admitted to practice law in
Wisconsin in 2004. He is a graduate of Boston College and
Columbia Law School. He practiced briefly in New York,
practiced at Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee for a time, and
then went to a small law firm in Delavan called the Clair Law
Offices. In 2011, Attorney Schoenecker's license was
suspended for three years. See In re Disciplinary
Proceedings Against Schoenecker, 2011 WI 76, 336 Wis.2d
253, 804 N.W.2d 686. Much of the misconduct in that case
arose out of Attorney Schoenecker's personal and
professional relationship with his former fiance, M.F. In
December 2007, Attorney Schoenecker and M.F. opened a joint
checking account. M.F. also obtained a home equity line of
credit and made a loan of $48, 500 to Attorney Schoenecker.
Attorney Schoenecker executed a promissory note whereby he
promised to repay the loan with interest. Two days after
making the loan, M.F. learned that Attorney Schoenecker had
made cash withdrawals from her checking account at a casino,
resulting in a $1, 500 negative balance in her account.
Thereafter, M.F. closed the joint checking account and ended
her engagement to Attorney Schoenecker.
Attorney Schoenecker repaid some of the loan balance. At some
point, M.F. filed a collection action against Attorney
Schoenecker. The parties reached a settlement and Attorney
Schoenecker paid M.F. some $32, 000 as part of a full
resolution of the financial issues between them.
In December 2008 Attorney Schoenecker used M.F.'s
personal information to enter her business account without
her permission and make checks payable to himself. He was
able to cash a $950 check, but an attempt to cash two more
checks was apparently unsuccessful. As a result of those
actions, Attorney Schoenecker was charged in two separate
criminal proceedings. In a Walworth County case, he pled
guilty to one felony count of identity theft and was placed
on two years of probation and ordered to make restitution and
pay court costs. In a separate Waukesha County case, he pled
guilty to a misdemeanor charge of theft-moveable property.
The Waukesha court imposed and stayed a sentence of four
months in jail and placed Attorney Schoenecker on probation
for one year. He was also required to pay M.F. restitution as
well as pay court costs.
In 2008, Attorney Schoenecker became an associate at the
Clair Law Offices. He informed the law firm he was
representing M.F., so she was considered a client of the
firm. Contrary to Clair Law Offices' policy, Attorney
Schoenecker sent invoices to M.F. in the fall of 2008 showing
that she owed over $13, 000. A substantial number of the
entries on the invoices were fraudulent.
In addition to the misconduct involving M.F., Attorney
Schoenecker also set up his own separate law firm on the side
while he was working as an associate attorney for the Clair
Law Office and did not inform the firm of this fact.
The final part of Attorney Schoenecker's misconduct
giving rise to the three-year suspension involved fraudulent
statements on his own personal bankruptcy proceeding.
In 2016, Attorney Schoenecker received an additional one-year
license suspension. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings
Against Schoenecker (Schoenecker II), 2016 WI
27, 368 Wis.2d 57, 878 N.W.2d 163. The misconduct in that
case concerned his involvement in a business partnership he
entered into in 2012 with M.M. and T.H. The men established a
limited liability company called GameMaster, LLC. T.H. gave
Attorney Schoenecker $25, 000 in cash as his capital
contribution, and M.M. contributed $20, 000. Instead of
immediately depositing T.H.'s $25, 000 into a GameMaster
account, Attorney Schoenecker deposited the bulk of the money
into his own personal checking account. He also used company
funds to pay his personal credit card bills without
preapproval from his partners, and he withdrew funds from
company accounts in order to gamble at Potawatomi Casino in
Attorney Schoenecker filed a petition for the reinstatement
of his law license on January 30, 2017. The Board of Bar
Examiners filed a report saying Attorney Schoenecker had
complied with all continuing legal education requirements for
reinstatement. The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR)
recommended against reinstatement. A public hearing was held
before Referee Mohr on July 18, 2017.
Attorney Schoenecker testified at the hearing that he is
employed by a landscape maintenance, snow removal, and
condominium property maintenance company. The owner of the
company submitted a letter saying that he would feel
comfortable with Attorney Schoenecker returning to the legal
profession and that he trusts Attorney Schoenecker with
company trucks and credit cards.
Attorney Schoenecker also testified that during the term of
his suspension he has volunteered at his church, set up a
chess club at a middle school, and assisted elderly neighbors
with household tasks.
Attorney Schoenecker testified that in 2015 he started seeing
a mental health professional who specializes in gambling
addictions, James Harrison. Attorney Schoenecker said with
Mr. Harrison's help he has been able to abstain from
gambling. Attorney Schoenecker also explained that he banned
himself from the Potawatomi Casino, and he also attends
Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Mr. Harrison wrote a letter
saying "if [Attorney Schoenecker] continues with his
treatment plan, utilizes his support system, makes the
changes that are necessary in his life, and continues to act
and live responsibly, the chance for the situation to
re-occur is minimal." Mr. Harrison went on to state that
in his professional opinion, if Attorney Schoenecker's
law license were reinstated, "he would continue to
perform his duties as an attorney in an extremely
professional manner. His prognosis is excellent."
T.H., one of the GameMaster partners, testified against
Attorney Schoenecker's reinstatement petition. He said he
did not feel his dispute with Attorney Schoenecker was
resolved fairly, and he said he did not believe Attorney
Schoenecker has the moral character to practice law in
Wisconsin. T.H. said, "In my personal opinion anyone who
can treat a lifelong friend the way I have been treated, you
can get as much as help as you want for gambling problems,
that doesn't change the core person in my opinion."
Edward Thompson, an attorney at Clair Law Offices, also
testified in opposition to Attorney Schoenecker's
reinstatement. He said Attorney Schoenecker was employed at
the law offices in 2008 and 2009. When asked if Attorney
Schoenecker would be trustworthy and have the moral character
to practice law after having been treated for a gambling
addiction, Attorney Thompson replied:
I have some concern about that in regard to how he treated
his employment relationship with Clair Law Offices, how he
treated his ex-fiancee, and then how I read - with regard to
the bankruptcy filings and with regard to GameMaster, the
gentleman who was here earlier, I have some concerns that
he's breaching trust with people he is closest to. So
yeah, I have a concern whether he would do that with clients.
M.F. also testified in opposition to Attorney
Schoenecker's reinstatement. She said she was reimbursed
the money that Attorney Schoenecker took from her, but she
said she did not believe he had ever expressed sincere or
genuine remorse for his misconduct. When asked if, assuming
Attorney Schoenecker has been treated for a gambling problem,
she would deem him to be trustworthy and having the moral
character to practice law, her response was "Certainly
not . . .I'm scared for the public if he keeps his law
license." She went on to say:
He's an opportunist. He's shown to be an opportunist.
[He] will take advantage at any point he can. He has taken
advantage of his next of kin, myself being his fiancee, two