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Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Curran

180 Wis. 2d 540, 509 N.W.2d 429 (1994)

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Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Curran

Wisconsin Supreme Court

180 Wis. 2d 540, 509 N.W.2d 429 (1994)

Facts

Attorney John Curran took over $200,000 from his law partnership without his partners’ knowledge. Curran and other attorneys formed the partnership in 1975. Beginning in 1987, Curran and two partners had an office building built. Curran managed the construction account and paid himself a $50,000 construction-management fee, then a $350 monthly management fee for 18 months, without telling the partners. The firm also did work for a construction company and its president, who was Curran’s friend. Curran had his friend write checks for legal services payable directly to Curran and put $81,300 in payments from his friend into his personal bank account instead of the law-firm account. Meanwhile, Curran issued credits on his friend’s legal bills totaling about $109,000, again without telling his partners. Curran’s friend also gave him a quitclaim deed to a condominium in exchange for a $13,000 credit. Finally, Curran represented a corporation’s president and his family. Curran had his secretary prepare manual billing statements for the corporation for “miscellaneous legal services” instead of the firm billing the client directly. The services actually entailed overseeing a lawsuit related to the client’s daughter’s divorce. Curran diverted about $10,000 of those fees into his personal bank account. After Curran had been at the firm for 24 years, three partners asked Curran to leave, partially because of that conduct. Curran resolved monetary disputes with the firm upon leaving. The Wisconsin Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility (board) nonetheless brought disciplinary proceedings. Curran stipulated to the facts and acknowledged those facts violated the ethics rules. The referee concluded Curran had engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation that violated the ethics rules and recommended a six-month suspension. The board appealed, requesting a two-year suspension. Curran also appealed, arguing the circumstances warranted only a one-month suspension. Curran claimed he contributed more fees to firm overhead than any other partner, while the partners attempted to enrich themselves and control firm clients, and that he was the only partner involved in the building project and took only reasonable and appropriate fees. Curran also claimed the partners breached their professional duty to inform the board about his conduct and provisions of his separation agreement. Finally, Curran argued the ethics rules did not apply to business relationships between lawyers.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)

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