On Thursday, November 2, 2023, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling suspending the law license of Appleton attorney Steven D. Johnson for six months.

The case is entitled “Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Steven D. Johnson,” with case no. 2022AP11-D.

The charges cited Wisconin Rules of Professional Conduct SCR 20:8.4(g), 20:5.3(a)(b), 20:3.3(a)(1), 20:1.4(b), 40.15. 

The misconduct occurred from late 2018 to late 2020, according to the court’s findings. Johnson was found to have used offensive language towards his staff, including the words “bitches,” “stupid bitches,” “whores,” “idiots,” “retard,” and “retarded.” He also yelled at staff, sometimes for extended periods, and occasionally hit the counter or wall when upset. In addition, Johnson was found to have yelled at three of his staff members, saying, “I hope you and all your fucking children die.” This behavior was deemed to violate the attorney’s oath and the duty of candor toward a tribunal.

The court also found that Johnson had failed to adequately supervise non-lawyer staff members. The court noted that Johnson had a duty to ensure that his staff’s conduct was compatible with his professional obligations as a lawyer.

Johnson had been a solo practitioner at Johnson Law Firm SC in Appleton, Wisconsin during his entire legal career. He took public defender appointments in certain types of cases and his areas of practice included criminal defense, family law, personal injury, and bankruptcy.

The court’s decision was based on a report and recommendation from Referee Sue E. Bischel, who held an evidentiary hearing on the matter. Johnson appealed the referee’s report and recommendation, arguing that the referee had made certain incorrect factual findings and that the OLR had failed to meet its burden of proof. Johnson also argued that a six-month suspension of his license was an excessive sanction.

However, the Supreme Court agreed with the referee’s factual findings and concluded that Johnson’s misconduct warranted a six-month license suspension. The court also ordered Johnson to pay the full costs of the disciplinary proceeding, which as of June 14, 2023, totaled $33,001.74.

Johnson has a disciplinary history, having received a private reprimand in August 2008 for being convicted of one count of misdemeanor battery as a domestic abuse incident. He also received a public reprimand in May 2010 for being convicted of one count of felony child abuse (recklessly causing harm), which related to an incident occurring at Johnson’s home involving his 12-year-old son.

The Disposition states:

“IT IS ORDERED that the license of Steven D. Johnson is suspended for a period of six months, beginning December 7, 2023.”

According to avvo.com, Mr. Johnson is a criminal defense attorney in Appleton, Wisconsin. He attended the Marquette University Law School, graduating in 2004. He acquired his law license in Wisconsin in 2005.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.