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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Hudec

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

April 18, 2019

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Patrick J. Hudec, Attorney at Law:
Patrick J. Hudec, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,

          ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

          PER CURIAM

         ¶1 We review Referee Richard M. Esenberg's report and recommendation concluding that Attorney Patrick J. Hudec violated the rules of professional conduct in connection with his representation of two clients, D.B. and N.K. The referee recommended that this court impose a 60-day suspension of Attorney Hudec's law license and condition Attorney Hudec's continued practice of law on his satisfaction of a monetary judgment entered in N.K.'s civil lawsuit against him. We adopt the referee's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation regarding discipline. We impose the full costs in this matter, which total $4,319.04 as of January 24, 2019.

         ¶2 Attorney Hudec was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin on May 21, 1979. He has a substantial disciplinary history: a 1989 consensual private reprimand; a 1993 consensual private reprimand; a 2001 consensual private reprimand; a 2008 consensual public reprimand; and a 2014 public reprimand.

         ¶3 On March 22, 2017, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) filed a complaint against Attorney Hudec alleging six counts of professional misconduct arising out of his representation of D.B. and N.K. Attorney Hudec moved to dismiss the complaint on a variety of grounds. This court appointed a referee, who denied the motion. Attorney Hudec then filed an answer in which he denied all misconduct.

         ¶4 Attorney Hudec later entered into a stipulation in which he agreed to plead no contest to the six counts of misconduct charged in the complaint. Attorney Hudec agreed that the referee could use the allegations of the complaint as a factual basis for the referee's determination of misconduct. The parties stipulated that a 60-day suspension was appropriate discipline. The parties further stipulated that, as a condition upon his continued practice of law, Attorney Hudec must comply with any judgment resulting from a pending civil case against him brought by N.K. The parties further agreed that the stipulation was not the result of plea bargaining; that Attorney Hudec's entry into the stipulation was knowing and voluntary; and that he understood the misconduct allegations made in the OLR's complaint, his right to contest those allegations, his right to consult with counsel, and the ramifications of his entry into the stipulation.

         ¶5 In January 2019, the referee filed his report and recommendation. The referee accepted the parties' stipulation and found, based on the stipulation, that the following facts were true.

         Representation of D.B. (Counts 1-3)

         ¶6 D.B.'s mother, J.A.R., died in May 2012. In June 2012, D.B. hired Attorney Hudec to represent her in her capacity as personal representative for her mother's estate. D.B. paid Attorney Hudec a $1,500 advanced fee. Attorney Hudec did not communicate the scope of the representation or the basis or rate of the fee in writing to D.B. within a reasonable time of commencing the representation, nor did he provide her with a written communication explaining the purpose and effect of the advanced fee.

         ¶7 J.A.R.'s will was admitted to probate. On November 16, 2012, CD., another daughter of J.A.R., filed a claim against the estate concerning payments made on her mother's behalf and an asserted interest in a house she had shared with her mother. Attorney Hudec received a copy of the claim.

         ¶8 Attorney Hudec failed to file an objection to C.D.'s claim within 60 days as required by Wis. Stat. § 859.33. He also failed to promptly respond to several of D.B.'s emails and telephone calls requesting information regarding the status of the estate proceeding.

         ¶9 On November 6, 2013, nearly a year after CD. filed her claim, C.D.'s counsel moved for a default judgment on the claim, as well as for a protective order relating to discovery.

         ¶10 On November 20, 2013, Attorney Hudec filed an objection to C.D.'s claim, a motion for an extension of time for objections to claims, and various filings in opposition to C.D.'s motions for default judgment and for a protective order.

         ¶11 In a December 23, 2013 order, the circuit court granted C.D.'s motion for default judgment. The circuit court also granted C.D.'s requested protective order.

         ¶12 On December 30, 2013, CD. filed a notice of entry of judgment.

         ¶13 On January 8, 2014, Attorney Hudec filed a motion for reconsideration and a "Motion to Reopen Judgment." The circuit court denied these motions, noting that Attorney Hudec's failure to timely file an objection to C.D.'s claim was not the result of excusable neglect, but rather was part of a pattern of late filings in his handling of the estate proceedings.

         ¶14 Attorney Hudec did not timely appeal from the circuit court's default judgment. He did, however, timely appeal from the circuit court's order denying the estate's motions for reconsideration and to "reopen" the default judgment.

         ¶15 In November 2014, the court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's order. In doing so, it noted the circuit court's observation that Attorney Hudec had engaged in a pattern of missed deadlines for ...

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