In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Daniel W. Morse, Attorney at Law:
Daniel W. Morse, Respondent-Appellant. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,
ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license
PROCEEDINGS AGAINST MORSE
Attorney Daniel W. Morse has appealed a report filed by
Referee James W. Mohr, Jr., concluding that Attorney Morse
committed four counts of professional misconduct and
recommending that his license to practice law in Wisconsin be
suspended for two years. In his appeal, Attorney Morse
challenges only the referee's recommended sanction.
Attorney Morse argues that his misconduct warrants a public
reprimand or, at most, a 60-day suspension.
Upon careful review of this matter, we uphold the
referee's findings of fact and conclusions of law. We
conclude, however, that rather than the two-year suspension
recommended by the referee, a one-year suspension of Attorney
Morse's license to practice law is an appropriate
sanction for the misconduct at issue. In addition, we find it
appropriate to follow our usual custom of imposing the full
costs of this proceeding, which are $11, 038.85 as of
December 18, 2018, on Attorney Morse. The Office of Lawyer
Regulation (OLR) notes that Attorney Morse has already made
restitution and it is not seeking an additional restitution
Attorney Morse was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in
1979. He is also licensed to practice law in Florida and
Pennsylvania. He has no prior disciplinary history.
On June 29, 2016, the OLR filed a complaint alleging six
counts of misconduct with respect to Attorney Morse's
handling of the estate of M.G. Attorney Morse filed an answer
on July 28, 2016. Referee Mohr was appointed on October 8,
2016, following Attorney Morse's motion for substitution
of a previously appointed referee. In May of 2017, the
referee ordered the disciplinary proceeding stayed pending a
criminal case filed against Attorney Morse arising out of the
same fact situation that gave rise to this case. The stay was
lifted in May of 2018.
On June 21, 2018, the parties filed a stipulation whereby
Attorney Morse stipulated to four of the counts of misconduct
alleged in the OLR's complaint. The OLR dismissed the
remaining two counts. The parties agreed that the terms of
the stipulation shall serve as the factual basis for the
referee's determination of misconduct and, in addition to
any evidence received in the disciplinary phase of the
matter, the referee's recommendation as to discipline.
The parties agreed that the scope of the hearing in this
matter would be limited to taking additional evidence and
argument to facilitate the referee's recommendation as to
the appropriate sanction.
The hearing with respect to the sanction was held on July 2,
2018. The referee issued his report and recommendation on
September 7, 2018. The referee adopted the facts as stated in
the stipulation. The following recitation of facts is taken
from the stipulation.
M.G. passed away on October 11, 2013. Approximately four days
later, Attorney Morse met with the heirs of the estate. Since
three of the four heirs resided outside of Wisconsin, and the
fourth heir had physical limitations that prevented her from
acting, it was agreed that Attorney Morse would be nominated
as personal representative of the estate. Attorney Morse also
served as attorney for the personal representative. No fee
agreement was entered into between Attorney Morse and the
estate's heirs, although it was reasonably feasible that
the total cost of the representation would exceed $1, 000.
The estate was filed in Dodge County Circuit Court in
November 2013. No bills for Attorney Morse's services
were sent to the heirs during his representation of the
The heirs eventually expressed to Attorney Morse their
frustration at his lack of communication and his seeming
neglect of the estate. On August 31, 2014, the heirs wrote to
Attorney Morse expressing a general concern for his lack of
communication and attention to the estate. The heirs'
letter contained several specific requests for information
about the estate, including but not limited to requests for
an itemized bill for Attorney Morse's legal services, an
accounting for all expenditures made on behalf of the estate,
and the timing of payment of certain bills of the estate. The
heirs requested a response to their letter within ten days.
In a September 8, 2014 email to the heirs, Attorney Morse
stated he would respond to the August 31 letter that week,
but he failed to do so.
In October 2014, the heirs met with Attorney Allen Larson and
requested that he replace Attorney Morse as personal
representative for the estate. From October 2014 through
January 2015, Attorney Larson tried to communicate with
Attorney Morse about the estate. Attorney Larson told
Attorney Morse that the heirs wanted Attorney Larson to
replace Attorney Morse as personal representative. Attorney
Larson requested from Attorney Morse, among other things, an
accounting of the estate and copies of the estate's
banking records. Attorney Morse was largely nonresponsive to
Attorney Larson's communications and requests for
On November 18, 2014, the probate court entered an order
granting the stipulated substitution of Attorney Larson in
place of Attorney Morse as personal representative of the
On December 19, 2014, Attorney Larson received a package from
Attorney Morse containing a $3, 000 check made out to the
estate drawn on Attorney Morse's law firm trust account
along with unopened mail relating to the estate, including
bills, some of which had arrived since Attorney Larson's
substitution in place of Attorney Morse. No accounting for
the estate was enclosed, nor was there any explanation of the
purpose for the check or why it was drawn on Attorney
Morse's law firm trust account.
Attorney Larson filed an inventory for the estate on January
23, 2015. The due date for filing the inventory had passed
during the period in which Attorney Morse represented the
estate, but Attorney Morse never filed an inventory.
As a result of his inability to obtain information about the
estate from Attorney Morse, including an accounting and
banking records, Attorney Larson filed an order to show cause
on February 25, 2015 directed to Attorney Morse, along with
an accompanying affidavit demonstrating over $26, 000 in
estate funds were unaccounted for by Attorney Morse.
At a March 30, 2015 hearing on the order to show cause,
Attorney Morse was ordered to make a payment to the estate in
the amount of $26, 037.19 by April 9, 2015. This sum
represented the amount of funds belonging to the estate for
which Attorney Morse could not account. Attorney Morse was
also ordered to provide to Attorney Larson all financial
records and an accounting pertaining to the estate.
Attorney Morse timely made the payment ordered by the probate
court, but he never produced the financial records relating
to the estate.
At the March 30, 2015 hearing, Attorney Morse presented for
the first time a billing statement for fees he claimed he
incurred in representing the estate. The statement purported
to show that the estate owed Attorney Morse over $7, 500 for
legal services rendered in connection with the estate. In May
of 2015, Attorney Larson asked Attorney Morse for
substantiation of the various entries on ...