On Tuesday, June 27, 2023, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin suspends Attorney Brian T. Steven’s license to practice law in the state for various ethical transgressions involving dishonesty and persistent procrastination.
The case is titled ‘In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings against Brian T. Stevens, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Brian T. Stevens’ with case number 2022AP12-D.
Attorney Stevens was alleged to have committed six counts of professional misconduct in violation of SCR 20:1.8(e), SCR 20:1.15(e)(1), SCR 20:1.15(b)(1), SCR 20:8.4(c), SCR 20:1.15(b)(3), and SCR 20:1.15(g)(1) which provide that:
A lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that: (1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter, and (2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of the client.
Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client has an interest, or in which a lawyer has received notice that a 3rd party has an interest identified by a lien, court order, judgment, or contract, the lawyer shall promptly notify the client or 3rd party in writing. Except as stated in this rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreement with the client, the lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or 3rd party any funds or other property that the client or 3rd party is entitled to receive.
A lawyer shall hold in trust, separate from the lawyer’s own property, that property of clients and 3rd parties that is in the lawyer’s possession in connection with a representation. All funds of clients and 3rdparties paid to a lawyer or law firm in connection with a representation shall be deposited in one or more identifiable trust accounts.
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
No funds belonging to a lawyer or law firm, except funds reasonably sufficient to pay monthly account service charges, may be deposited or retained in a trust account. Each lawyer or law firm that receives trust funds shall maintain at least one draft account, other than the trust account, for funds received and disbursed other than in a trust capacity, which shall be entitled ‘Business Account,” Office Account,’ ‘Operating Account,’ or words of similar import.
The matter started in 2013 when Attorney Stevens was retained by a client to represent him in the insurance claims he filed for the injuries he sustained in an accident. While the claim was underway, the client borrowed $4,500 from an acquaintance, W.B., promising to pay when the personal injury claim pans out. The deal was clothed by a promissory note drafted by Attorney Stevens. Mr. Stevens, himself, loaned his client $700 to be paid out of the client’s personal injury settlement funds.
In August 2015, Attorney Stevens pulled off an $85,000.00 settlement fee with an insurance company. The remaining money after the payment of subrogated medical expenses was deposited by Attorney Stevens to his trust account on September 15, 2016. In the course of events from that time until March 2020, Attorney Stevens had withdrawn and deposited money from and to the account, respectively for the client and for himself-for his retainer fee and his other personal expenditures. Attorney Stevens even disbursed to clients for whom he was not holding any funds in trust. However, no payment was made to the client’s acquaintance, W.B. whom the client owed $4,500. A series of more bank transactions on the trust account was done by Stevens which led to the filing of a grievance against him by his client on the mishandling of the settlement funds.
During the investigation, Attorney Stevens did not contest the allegations and likewise failed to comply with the referee’s order to produce the internal records he maintains for his trust account.
Attorney Stevens was determined by the referee to have committed various professional misconduct and a 60-day suspension was the recommended penalty. The referee likewise recommended that some conditions be imposed with the suspension, to wit:
“participate in individual counseling, fully cooperate with a mentor,
participate in any and all available education pertaining to Supreme Court Rules, and
provide complete and accurate trust account records to OLRon on a quarterly basis.”
Attorney Stevens was also recommended to pay restitution to a third party and the cost of the whole proceedings.
In arriving at the recommended suspension, the referee took into account aggravating factors such as – the persistent procrastination of Attorney Stevens “resulting in administrative “chaos” and”massive disorganization” in his office”; his inclination to blame others to justify his misdeeds; and his mindset that procrastination and poor office management are integral parts of his profession.
Taking into account the statement of facts put forward by the referee and the evidentiary hearing, the Court found the recommendations of the referee to be in order.
The disposition reads:
“IT IS ORDERED that the license of Bryan T. Stevenstopractice law in Wisconsin is suspended for a period of 60 days, effective August 8, 2023.”
The Court also ordered Stevens to complete seven hours of continuing legal education on trust account management and law practice management before resuming practice. He must be monitored by an approved attorney for two years, pay restitution of $4,500 to W.B., and cover the costs of the proceeding, totaling $8,366.07. Compliance with all conditions is required for reinstatement.
Brian T. Stevens was admitted to practice law in the State of Wisconsin in 1995. He was previously disciplined through a private reprimand in March 2020.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.