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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schoenecker

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

December 13, 2019

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against James M. Schoenecker, Attorney at Law:
James M. Schoenecker, Respondent-Appellant. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant-Respondent,


         ATTORNEY Reinstatement proceeding. Reinstatement granted.

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 We review the report and recommendation of Referee James J. Winiarski recommending that James M. Schoenecker's license to practice law in Wisconsin be reinstated. After careful review of the matter, we agree that Attorney Schoenecker's license should be reinstated with certain conditions recommended by the referee. We further agree with the referee that, consistent with our general practice, Attorney Schoenecker should be required to pay the full costs of this reinstatement proceeding, which are $14, 754.78 as of October 7, 2019.

         ¶2 Attorney Schoenecker was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 2004. He is a graduate of Boston College and Columbia University Law School. He practiced briefly in New York, then practiced at Quarles and Brady in Milwaukee for a time, and finally practiced at the Clair Law Offices, a small law firm in Delevan.

         ¶3 In 2011, Attorney Schoenecker's license was suspended for three years. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schoenecker (Schoenecker I), 2011 WI 76, 336 Wis.2d 253, 804 N.W.2d 686. Much of the misconduct in that case arose out of Attorney Schoenecker's personal and professional relationship with his former fiancee. In late 2007, Attorney Schoenecker and his fiancee opened a joint checking account and the fiancee obtained a home equity line of credit and loaned Attorney Schoenecker $48, 500. Attorney Schoenecker executed a promissory note whereby he promised to repay the loan with interest. Two days later, the fiancee learned Attorney Schoenecker had made cash withdrawals from her checking account at a casino, resulting in a $1, 500 negative balance in her account. She closed the joint checking account and ended her engagement to Attorney Schoenecker.

         ¶4 Attorney Schoenecker repaid part of the loan balance. At some point the former fiancee filed a collection action against him. The parties reached a settlement, and Attorney Schoenecker paid the former fiancee over $32, 000 as part of a full resolution of their financial issues.

         ¶5 In December 2008, Attorney Schoenecker used the former fiancee's personal information to enter her business account without her permission and made checks payable to himself. As a result of these actions, he was charged in two separate criminal proceedings, one in Walworth County where he pled guilty to one felony count of identity theft and was placed on two years of probation and ordered to make restitution and pay court costs, and one in Waukesha County where he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Theft-Moveable Property. The Waukesha County circuit court imposed and stayed a four-month jail sentence and placed Attorney Schoenecker on probation for one year. In addition, Attorney Schoenecker was required to pay restitution to the former fiancee and pay court costs.

         ¶6 In 2008, Attorney Schoenecker became an associate at the Clair Law Offices. He told the law firm he was representing his former fiancee, so she was considered a firm client. He sent invoices to the former fiancee in the fall of 2008 showing that she owed over $13, 000. A substantial number of the entries on the invoices were fraudulent.

         ¶7 Attorney Schoenecker also set up his own separate law firm on the side while he was working as an associate at the Clair Law Offices. He did not inform the law firm of this fact. In addition to the incidents involving the former fiancee and the Clair Law Office, Attorney Schoenecker's 2011 suspension also arose out of his making fraudulent statements in his own personal bankruptcy proceeding.

         ¶8 In 2016, Attorney Schoenecker received an additional one-year license suspension. See In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schoenecker (Schoenecker II), 2016 WI 27, 368 Wis.2d 57, 878 N.W.2d 163. The misconduct at issue in that case arose out of Attorney Schoenecker's involvement in a business partnership he entered into in 2012 with two other men. The men established a limited liability company. One man gave Attorney Schoenecker $25, 000 in cash as his capital contribution, and the other man contributed $20, 000. Instead of immediately depositing the $25, 000 capital contribution into a business account, Attorney Schoenecker deposited the bulk of that money into his own personal checking account. He also used company funds to pay personal credit card bills without preapproval from his partners, and he withdrew funds from company accounts in order to gamble at Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee.

         ¶9 Attorney Schoenecker filed his first petition for reinstatement of his law license in early 2017. In 2018, this court denied the petition, agreeing with the referee that Attorney Schoenecker had failed to meet his burden of proof to establish the requirements of reinstatement at that time. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Schoenecker, 2018 WI 58, 381 Wis.2d 644, 912 N.W.2d 847. This court stated that Attorney Schoenecker could again file a petition for reinstatement six months after the date of its decision.

         ¶10 In November 2018, Attorney Schoenecker filed a second petition for reinstatement. A public hearing was held before the referee on June 18 and 19, 2019. Numerous witnesses testified at the hearing in favor of Attorney Schoenecker's reinstatement petition.

         ¶11 One of the witnesses who testified on Attorney Schoenecker's behalf was James Harrison, a clinical substance abuse counselor, licensed professional counselor, international certified gambling addiction counselor, and board-approved clinical consultant. Mr. Harrison testified that he began seeing Attorney Schoenecker in April of 2015. Mr. Harrison said Attorney Schoenecker has gone above and beyond what many people do in outpatient treatment and has voluntarily continued his counseling sessions for over four years, whereas Mr. Harrison normally sees clients for only two to four months in counseling sessions. Mr. Harrison testified that Attorney Schoenecker's willingness to continue the counseling sessions was indicative of ...

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