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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Burton

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

March 22, 2019

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Diann P. Burton, Attorney at Law:
v.
Diann P. Burton, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST BURTON

          PER CURIAM.

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney publicly reprimanded.

         ¶1 We review Referee Kim M. Peterson's recommendation that the court declare Attorney Diann P. Burton in default and publicly reprimand her for professional misconduct in connection with her practice of law while her law license was suspended, and her improper use of a firm name for her solo practice. The referee also recommended that Attorney Burton pay the full costs of this proceeding, which total $533 as of January 15, 2019.

         ¶2 Because no appeal has been filed, we review the referee's report pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 22.17(2), [1] After conducting our independent review of the matter, we agree with the referee that, based on Attorney Burton's failure to answer the complaint filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), the OLR is entitled to a default judgment. We also agree with the referee that Attorney Burton's professional misconduct warrants a public reprimand. Finally, we agree with the referee that Attorney Burton should be ordered to pay the full costs of the proceeding.

         ¶3 Attorney Burton was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1997. Her law license is currently subject to administrative and temporary suspensions. On October 31, 2016, Attorney Burton's law license was administratively suspended due to her failure to pay mandatory bar dues and her failure to file a trust account certification. On May 22, 2018, her law license was administratively suspended due to her failure to comply with continuing legal education requirements. On July 10, 2018, her law license was temporarily suspended due to her failure to cooperate in an OLR investigation unrelated to the misconduct at issue in this case.

         ¶4 On July 26, 2018, the OLR filed the current complaint against Attorney Burton. The complaint alleges four counts of professional wrongdoing. The following facts are taken from the OLR's complaint.

         ¶5 In August 2014, M.B. and Y.B. hired Attorney Burton to file a petition for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and paid her a $1, 000 flat fee for her representation. Attorney Burton continued to provide legal advice to M.B. and Y.B. after her law license was administratively suspended in October 2016, though she never filed a bankruptcy petition on their behalf.

         ¶6 In addition, at the time of her administrative license suspension in October 2016, Attorney Burton had at least eight open bankruptcy cases pending in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Attorney Burton did not notify her clients or the bankruptcy court of the suspension of her license and continued as counsel of record in the pending cases while her license was suspended. Legal work that Burton performed while her law license was suspended included:

• filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in February 2017 on behalf of a client, and representing that client through the bankruptcy discharge granted in May of 2017;
• filing amended Chapter 13 plans;
• filing responses to and stipulations resolving trustees' motions to dismiss; and
• filing a petition for voluntary amortization of debts in February 2017 on behalf of another client in a Wisconsin circuit court.

         ¶7 Finally, while operating as a solo practitioner, Attorney Burton used a law firm name and letterhead that listed several partners, one of whom had a suspended law license.

         ¶8 The OLR's complaint alleged the following four counts of misconduct arising out of the matters described above:

• By practicing law while her license was suspended, Attorney Burton violated SCR 10.03(6)[2] and SCR 22.26(2), [3] ...

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