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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Perez

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

November 19, 2019

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Ricardo Perez, Attorney at Law:
v.
Ricardo Perez, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST PEREZ

         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 We review Referee Kim M. Peterson's report and recommendation that the court declare Attorney Ricardo Perez in default and suspend his license to practice law in Wisconsin for a period of nine months for professional misconduct in connection with his representation of four clients. The referee also recommended that Attorney Perez pay the full costs of this proceeding, which are $1, 957.12 as of August 21, 2019.

         ¶2 Since no appeal has been filed, we review the referee's report pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 22.17(2) . After reviewing the matter, we agree with the referee that, based on Attorney Perez's failure to answer the Office of Lawyer Regulation's (OLR) complaint, the OLR is entitled to a default judgment. We also agree with the referee that a nine-month suspension of Attorney Perez's law license is an appropriate sanction for his professional misconduct. Finally, we agree that Attorney Perez should be required to pay the full costs of this proceeding.

         ¶3 Attorney Perez was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 2000 and practiced in Kenosha. On February 14, 2018, Attorney Perez's Wisconsin law license was suspended pursuant to SCR 22.03(4) due to his willful failure to cooperate in an OLR investigation. In October 2018, his law license was suspended for failure to pay state bar dues and failure to file a trust account certification. Attorney Perez's license was also administratively suspended on June 5, 2019, for failure to comply with continuing legal education reporting requirements. His license remains suspended.

         ¶4 The OLR filed a complaint against Attorney Perez on March 25, 2019. The first client matter detailed in the complaint involved Attorney Perez's representation of R.J., who hired Attorney Perez to represent her in a personal injury case stemming from her January 2015 fall at a drug store. The initial attorney-client meeting occurred at R.J.'s home. Attorney Perez gave R.J. a document with his contact information and information pertaining to the drug store. Attorney Perez told R.J. to contact him when she had finished her medical treatment.

         ¶5 R.J. left three or four messages for Attorney Perez around December 2016 and January 2017, but received no response. In February 2017, R.J. sent Attorney Perez a letter asking about the status of her case and asking why he had not responded to her calls. Attorney Perez failed to respond. The February 2017 letter was the last contact R.J. had with Attorney Perez.

         ¶6 R.J. filed a grievance with the OLR against Attorney Perez. On September 19, 2017, the OLR sent a letter to Attorney Perez by first class mail requesting his written response to R.J.'s grievance by October 12, 2017. The letter was sent to Attorney Perez's last known place of business as listed with the State Bar of Wisconsin. Attorney Perez did not respond.

         ¶7 The OLR sent a second letter to Attorney Perez, by first class and certified mail, on October 27, 2017 asking for a response to R.J.'s grievance by November 8, 2017. The certified letter was returned marked "return to sender, unclaimed, unable to forward." The first class letter was not returned. Attorney Perez failed to respond.

         ¶8 On December 1, 2017, the OLR sent Attorney Perez a third letter, which was personally served on Attorney Perez on December 11, 2017. The letter required Attorney Perez to file a response to R.J.'s grievance no later than seven days from the date of service. Attorney Perez failed to respond.

         ¶9 The OLR filed a motion asking this court to order Attorney Perez to show cause why his law license should not be temporarily suspended due to his failure to cooperate in the OLR's investigation. Attorney Perez failed to respond to the order to show cause, and on February 14, 2018, this court temporarily suspended Attorney Perez's license to practice law in Wisconsin.

         ¶10 The OLR's complaint alleged the following counts of misconduct with respect to Attorney Perez's representation of R.J.:

Count One: By failing to take prompt and diligent action on R.J.'s personal injury claim, Attorney Perez violated SCR 20:1.3.[1]
Count Two: By failing to respond to R.J.'s inquiries or otherwise keep her informed as to case status, Attorney Perez violated SCR 20:1.4(a)(3)[2] and SCR 20:1.4(a) (4) .[3]
Count Three: By willfully failing to respond to the OLR's attempt to investigate R.J.'s grievance, Attorney Perez violated SCR 22.03 (2)[4] and SCR 22.03(6), [5] enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h).[6]

         ¶11 The second client matter detailed in the OLR's complaint involved Attorney Perez's representation of L.H., who signed a fee agreement with Attorney Perez for representation in a personal injury case. L.H. informed Attorney Perez, via voice mail, that she had completed her medical treatment on December 15, 2017. Attorney Perez returned the phone call and said it would be 60-90 days before L.H. would receive a response to her claim. In December 2017, at Attorney Perez's request, L.H. provided him with a signed release for medical records.

         ¶12 L.H. called Attorney Perez on multiple occasions, but he failed to respond. Attorney Perez failed to notify L.H. that his law license had been suspended on February 14, 2018, and he failed to advise her to seek legal advice elsewhere. Attorney Perez never provided L.H. with her case file following termination of representation due to the suspension of his law license.

         ¶13 L.H. filed a grievance with the OLR against Attorney Perez. On August 28, 2018, the OLR sent Attorney Perez a letter via first class mail to his last known address requesting a written response to the grievance by September 20, 2018. Attorney Perez failed to respond. The OLR sent Attorney Perez a second letter on October 10, 2018 requesting a written response within seven days of service. Attorney Perez was personally served with the letter on October 22, 2018, but failed to respond to it.

         ¶14 The OLR's complaint alleged the following counts of misconduct with respect to Attorney Perez's representation of L.H.:

Count Four: By failing to take prompt and diligent action on L.H.'s personal injury claim, Attorney Perez violated SCR 20:1.3.
Count Five: By failing to keep L.H. informed about the status of her case and respond to her requests for information, Attorney Perez violated SCR 20:1.4 (a) (3) and (4).
Count Six: By failing to provide L.H. notice of his law license suspension, and to advise L.H. to seek legal advice of her choice elsewhere, Attorney Perez violated SCR 22.26(1)(a) and (b), [7] enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f) .[8]
Count Seven: By failing to provide L.H. with her case file materials after the termination of his representation, Attorney Perez violated SCR 20:1.16(d).[9]
Count Eight: By willfully failing to provide the OLR with a response to L.H.'s grievance, Attorney Perez violated SCR 22.03(2) and SCR 22.03(6), enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(h).

         ¶15 The third client matter detailed in the OLR's complaint arose out of Attorney Perez's representation of C.H. In October 2016, C.H. entered into a contingent fee agreement with Attorney Perez for representation in a personal injury matter. C.H. signed and returned a written fee contract to Attorney Perez at his direction.

         ¶16 On October 18, 2016, Attorney Perez emailed C.H. and requested a copy of the police report in her case. C.H. informed him via email the same day that she would follow through with this request. Starting in October 2016, C.H. began calling and leaving email messages for Attorney Perez asking for a status update on her case, but he failed to respond.

         ¶17 C.H. terminated Attorney Perez's representation effective March 11, 2017, via an email she sent to him and also via a certified letter. In her correspondence, C.H. said she had been trying to contact Attorney Perez for over a month and that she had called him at least 20 times or more without receiving any response. Attorney Perez failed to respond to the email or the certified letter. He never provided C.H. with her case file materials following termination of his representation.

         ¶18 In the summer of 2017, Attorney Perez called C.H., apologized for the delayed response to her emails and phone calls, and falsely informed her that a healthcare provider had never released her medical records to him. C.H. subsequently confirmed with the healthcare provider that the records had in fact been released to Attorney Perez.

         ¶19 C.H. filed a grievance with the OLR against Attorney Perez. On September 6, 2018, the OLR sent Attorney Perez a letter via first class mail to his last known address provided to the State Bar of Wisconsin asking for a written response to ...


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