In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Cole J. White, Attorney at Law:
Cole J. White, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license
We review a supplemental referee's report and
recommendation concluding that Attorney Cole J. White
committed 27 counts of professional misconduct in his
handling of four client matters. The referee recommended that
this court impose a 15-month suspension of Attorney
White's law license. We adopt the referee's findings
of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation regarding
discipline. We also agree with the referee's
recommendation that Attorney White be required to make
restitution to two clients. Finally, we impose the full costs
of this proceeding, which total $17, 105.44 as of January 23,
2019, on Attorney White.
Attorney White was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in
2013 and practices in Green Bay. He has no prior disciplinary
On September 26, 2017, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR)
filed a complaint against Attorney White alleging 28 counts
of professional misconduct. Attorney White filed an answer on
November 24, 2017. James R. Erickson was appointed referee on
December 12, 2017.
An evidentiary hearing was held on September 12, 2018.
Attorney White chose not to appear in person at the hearing.
His counsel, Attorney Jevon J. Jaconi, appeared on his
behalf. Pursuant to an agreement between Attorney Jaconi and
counsel for the OLR, with the approval of the referee, the
deposition transcript of Attorney White, including exhibits,
was offered and received into evidence. Two of Attorney
White's former clients testified in person at the
hearing, and two testified telephonically. Testimony was also
taken from other witnesses, both in person and
The referee issued his initial report and recommendation on
January 3, 2019. On April 9, 2019, this court remanded the
matter to the referee for further proceedings. The referee
issued a supplemental report on June 10, 2019.
In his supplemental report, the referee noted that the
parties agreed to dismiss one of the counts in the complaint.
The referee further noted that Attorney White stipulated to
17 counts in the complaint. The referee found that the OLR
had met its burden of proof with respect to the 10 remaining
The OLR's complaint alleged eight counts of misconduct
with respect to Attorney White's representation of S.E.
In September 2012, the Neenah Police Department and the Lake
Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group conducted a
raid of S.E.'s business pursuant to a
"no-knock" search warrant issued by Winnebago
County Circuit Court Judge Scott Woldt, based upon suspicious
illegal drug activities. S.E. was charged with several
felonies following the raid. In December 2013, he pled no
contest to a signal misdemeanor possession charge. All other
charges were dropped.
During the criminal proceeding against S.E., S.E.'s
attorney brought a motion to suppress evidence on the basis
that the warrant was not valid because Judge Woldt was not
"neutral and detached" and should have disqualified
himself from issuing the warrant. The motion was denied.
In June of 2014, S.E. hired Attorney White to file a federal
civil rights lawsuit against the City of Neenah and others as
a result of the raid. Attorney White provided S.E. with a fee
agreement charging a flat fee of $4, 500 plus a 30 percent
contingent fee on any settlement. S.E. was to be responsible
for any costs. The fee agreement did not state Attorney
White's intention to use the alterative fee placement
measures allowed under former SCR 20:1.15(b) (4m) . S.E. paid
Attorney White the $4, 500 flat fee in installments. Attorney
White did not place any of the money in his trust account.
On December 2, 2014, Attorney White filed a lawsuit in United
States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
The plaintiffs included S.E. and his business, as well as
adjoining business owners. The defendants included the City
of Neenah, the Neenah Police Department, Judge Woldt, the
Neenah Police Chief, a captain of the Neenah Police
Department, and Winnebago County. Attorney White's
complaint against Judge Woldt was based on the judge's
signing of the search warrant, which the plaintiffs asserted
was "overly broad and invalid." The complaint also
alleged the judge was not neutral because of a prior dispute
between him and S.E.
Judge Woldt was represented in the lawsuit by Assistant
Attorney General David C. Rice. On December 9, 2014, AAG Rice
filed a motion to dismiss on numerous grounds including
judicial immunity, Eleventh Amendment immunity, failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted, issue
preclusion, and lack of jurisdiction. Attorney White did not
respond to the motion to dismiss, and the court granted it on
February 5, 2015. Attorney White told the OLR he did not
respond to the motion because he believed it would be
granted. Attorney White admitted to the OLR that the
complaint he filed was "bloviated and histrionic,"
but he said he filed it anyway because it was what his client
wanted "in terms of sending a message."
Attorney White failed to respond to requests that he provide
dates that his clients would be available for a deposition.
He also failed to respond to interrogatories and requests for
production of documents.
S.E. periodically contacted Attorney White to find out the
status of the case. Attorney White would respond by saying
that everything was taken care of, things were going well,
and he hoped to set up a settlement conference. On November
13, 2015, counsel for the City of Neenah and the Neenah
Police Department filed a motion to dismiss based on the
plaintiffs' failure to prosecute the action. Attorney
White failed to provide his clients with a copy of the motion
to dismiss. On November 30, 2015, Attorney White responded to
the motion claiming he had moved his office and did not
receive deposition notices until the day after they were
scheduled to take place because the defendants had mailed the
notices to his former office address. Attorney White also
claimed he had notified the defendants of his new office
address in June 2015 and that the plaintiffs had all the
evidence they needed to proceed to trial. Attorney White did
not copy his clients with his response to the motion to
dismiss. After filing the response, Attorney White mentioned
the motion to dismiss in a text message he sent to S.E. that
included the statement "we filed a response calling out
On December 1, 2015, counsel for Winnebago County also filed
a motion to dismiss due to the plaintiffs' failure to
state a claim against the County and the plaintiffs'
failure to prosecute the case. On December 14, 2015, counsel
for the Neenah Police Department and the City of Neenah filed
a reply to Attorney White's response to their motion to
dismiss alleging that the response contained flagrant
On January 2, 2016, Attorney White filed a response to
Winnebago County's motion to dismiss that was identical
to his response to the City of Neenah's and Neenah Police
Department's motion. Attorney White included no
supporting affidavits or memorandum, and he did not copy his
clients on his response.
On January 20, 2016, the court issued a decision granting the
remaining defendants' motions to dismiss and ordering
Attorney White to personally pay a sanction of $1, 500 to the
defendants. Attorney White failed to inform S.E. and the
other plaintiffs of the dismissal order. S.E. learned about
the dismissal when reporters asked him for comment.
On January 26, 2016, S.E. wrote to Attorney White directing
him to file an appeal. Attorney White falsely informed S.E.
that he "never received a goddamned email from them
about dates" and that the defendants had filed a motion
to dismiss because Attorney White did not timely receive
notice of the deposition. Attorney White agreed to file a
notice of appeal and said the judge's decision was
"filled with so many lies, misstatements and
misconstructions it verges on the absurd."
S.E. subsequently hired new counsel. On February 17, 2016,
S.E.'s new counsel filed a motion to alter or amend the
judgment dismissing the case. The motion was denied, with the
court commenting that "the merits of the complaint,
which had named a judge, were not particularly strong."
In April 2016, S.E. filed a grievance against Attorney White
with the OLR. In Attorney White's response to the
grievance, he falsely said that he had had several
conversations with S.E. about the depositions and that S.E.
had expressed exasperation and annoyance about having to
answer questions. Attorney White also falsely stated that he
had a telephone conversation with counsel for the defendants
telling them the location of the depositions was problematic.
Attorney White also falsely told the OLR that he had informed
the defendants' counsel of his new address in a telephone
Attorney White also provided an email to the OLR, purportedly
written on September 14, 2015, in which he requested a call
to discuss scheduling depositions. The email was fabricated.
Attorney White has not paid the $1, 500 in costs and
attorney's fees as ordered in the court's January 20,
The OLR's complaint alleged the following counts of
misconduct with respect to Attorney White's
representation of S.E.:
Count 1: By failing to hold the advanced
fees that S.E. paid to him in trust, Attorney White violated
former SCR 20:1.15(b)(4), 
Count 2: By naming Judge Woldt as a
defendant despite his immunity as a judge from civil suits
for his judicial acts and the existence of multiple other
grounds precluding a civil action against Judge Woldt,
Attorney White violated SCR 20:3.1 (a) (1) .
Count 3: By failing to respond to requests
from opposing counsel and by failing to otherwise take action
to prosecute his clients' case, Attorney White violated
Count 4: By failing to respond to the
defendants' discovery requests, Attorney White violated
SCR 20:3.4(d) .
Count 5: By failing to inform S.E. and the
other plaintiffs of the defendants' discovery requests,
including interrogatories and deposition notices and by
failing to inform them of the dismissal of the lawsuit,
Attorney White violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3).
Count 6: In the course of the federal
lawsuit filed on behalf of S.E., by making false statements
in documents filed with the court, Attorney White violated
SCR 20:3.3(a) (1) .
Count 7: By making false statements to his
client about the status of the case and the conduct of the
opposing parties, Attorney White violated SCR 20:8.4(c)
Count 8: In the course of the OLR's
investigation, by fabricating an email in an effort to show
that he had responded to opposing counsel's request to
schedule depositions and inform them of his new office
address, by falsely asserting that he and/or his intern had
telephone conversations with opposing counsel, and telling
the OLR "the court records were updated" in
response to the OLR's request for evidence that he had
informed opposing counsel of his new address, and that he had
several conversations with his clients about scheduling
depositions, Attorney White violated SCR 22.03(6),
enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h).
The second client matter detailed in the OLR's complaint
involved Attorney White's representation of R.R., who
hired Attorney White to represent him in modifying a custody
and placement order that granted R.R.'s ex-wife sole
custody and granted R.R. supervised visits and telephone
contact with his daughter. At the time he undertook this
representation, Attorney White had little or no experience in
custody and placement cases.
On September 23, 2014, Attorney White provided R.R. with a
written agreement to represent him "in connection with
the alteration of custody and placement order currently in
effect with K.K.," which would "include counseling,
advocacy and representation in all hearings, motions,
mediations and any other proceedings arising in or related to
this action." Attorney White charged R.R. a flat fee of
$11, 000 and described the fee as being non-refundable. The
fee agreement did not state Attorney White's intention to
use the alterative fee placement measures allowed under
former SCR 20:1.15(b) (4m) . R.R.'s mother and
step-father paid the $11, 000 advanced fee to Attorney White.
Attorney White did not place the money in his trust account.
On June 26, 2015, Attorney White filed a three-page standard
"fill in the blank" motion to modify form available
on the court's website. The motion requested that
physical placement of R.R.'s daughter be modified from
primary placement to shared placement and legal custody be
modified to joint legal custody. The factual basis alleged in
support of the motion was that the mother regularly withheld
visitation and contact and had made baseless criminal
allegations against Attorney White's client.
A motion hearing was held before a court commissioner on
September 23, 2015. The court commissioner denied the motions
since no substantial change had been alleged since the
September 26, 2013 custody and placement order; the
psychological issues that served as the basis for supervised
visitation had not been addressed; and the allegations of
interference with visitation were more properly the subject
of an enforcement motion.
Despite R.R. providing Attorney White with a substantial
amount of documentation about the placement case, including
police reports, court records, and other documents, Attorney
White did not provide any of those documents to the court
Attorney White claimed that after the September 2015 hearing
he informed R.R. he would pursue a new application to the
court to modify placement, but that R.R. never provided the
necessary information. As a result, Attorney White said he
considered the case closed. Attorney White had no
documentation that he ever explained to R.R. the outcome of
the motion, that he requested additional information from
R.R. to pursue the matter, or that he considered the matter
closed. Attorney White provided no documentation that he
earned the entire $11, 000 advanced fee.
Attorney White subsequently led R.R. to believe that the
custody matter was ongoing and advised R.R. to claim a Texas
residence in order to establish a substantial change in
On September 23, 2015, R.R. hired Attorney White to pursue a
second matter, a defamation claim against his ex-wife
alleging she falsely accused him of molesting their daughter.
Attorney White provided R.R. a second fee agreement which
provided for a flat fee of $5, 000 that was described as
non-refundable. The agreement acknowledged receipt of an
initial $200 payment and called for additional payments of
$300 on September 24 and $4, 500 by October 9. The second fee