Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Voss (In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Richard W. Voss), No. 2012AP931–D.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation2014 WI 75,850 N.W.2d 190,356 Wis.2d 382
Docket NumberNo. 2012AP931–D.
Decision Date18 July 2014
PartiesIn the Matter of DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST Richard W. VOSS, Attorney at Law. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant–Appellant, v. Richard W. Voss, Respondent–Respondent.

356 Wis.2d 382
850 N.W.2d 190
2014 WI 75

In the Matter of DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST Richard W. VOSS, Attorney at Law.
Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant–Appellant,
v.
Richard W. Voss, Respondent–Respondent.

No. 2012AP931–D.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Decided July 18, 2014.



For the complainant-appellant, there were briefs by Julie M. Spoke and the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

[850 N.W.2d 191]

For the respondent-respondent, there was a brief by Richard W. Voss and Voss Law Office, Rhinelander.


ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.
PER CURIAM.

¶ 1 The Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) appeals from that portion of a referee's report recommending that the license of Attorney Richard W. Voss to practice law in Wisconsin be suspended for one year as a sanction for professional misconduct. The OLR argues that Attorney Voss's license to practice law should be revoked.

¶ 2 Upon careful review of this matter, we conclude that an eighteen-month suspension of Attorney Voss's license to practice law is an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. We agree with the referee that Attorney Voss should be ordered to make restitution to his former client's estate in the amount of $2,077.18 and that he be ordered to pay the full costs of this proceeding, which are $4,625.48 as of April 2, 2014. We further concur with the referee's recommendation that, as a condition of the reinstatement of his license to practice law in Wisconsin, Attorney Voss be required to demonstrate that he has in place a proper trust account consistent with supreme court rules.

¶ 3 Attorney Voss was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1976, and practices in Rhinelander. In 2004 Attorney Voss was privately reprimanded for violating Supreme Court Rules (SCRs) 20:1.1 and 20:1.4(a). Private Reprimand, No. 2004–24.1 In 2006 Attorney Voss received a public reprimand for various trust account violations. Public Reprimand of Richard W. Voss, No. 2006–7.

¶ 4 On May 2, 2012, the OLR filed a complaint alleging 11 counts of misconduct arising out of Attorney Voss's work as the court-appointed guardian of J.K., who is now deceased. In September of 1987, Attorney Voss was appointed by the Oneida County circuit court as the guardian of the person and estate of J.K. J.K. suffered from mental illness, complicated by alcohol abuse and diabetes, requiring a long period of protective placement. The circuit court never approved or authorized any guardianship fees to be paid to Attorney Voss from J.K.'s funds.

¶ 5 Attorney Voss did not set up a separate guardianship account to handle J.K.'s income and expenses. Instead, Attorney Voss deposited J.K.'s monthly social security benefits in an account at M & I Bank designated as his client trust account. The account at M & I Bank is not an Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) account but rather a personal checking account that does not accrue interest. Attorney Voss also maintained a separate business account at M & I Bank designated as a non-personal account. Attorney Voss is responsible for recordkeeping for his client trust account and is the sole person authorized to sign checks.

¶ 6 From 1987 through 1990, J.K. resided in a private facility and substantially all of his income was used to pay for the costs of his care. In 1990 J.K. was moved to a facility run by the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA did not require a payment for J.K.'s room, board, and care. Attorney Voss made regular disbursements to the VA for J.K.'s personal needs and incidentals.

[850 N.W.2d 192]

¶ 7 Between 1990 and 2008, Attorney Voss received social security benefits on J.K.'s behalf totaling between $5,250 and $7,848 annually. Between 1990 and 2008, Attorney Voss disbursed no more than $4,320 per year to the VA on behalf of J.K. From 1991 until September of 2002, Attorney Voss made disbursements to the VA for J.K.'s personal needs and incidentals in the amount of $70 per week. In September of 2002, Attorney Voss increased the disbursement to $80 per week. In October of 2007, Attorney Voss ceased to make any payments to the VA for J.K.'s personal needs and incidentals.

¶ 8 Attorney Voss should have accumulated at least $1,767.60 per year attributable to J.K. in his trust account over and above the amounts disbursed for J.K. In some years the trust account should have accumulated over $3,000 more than was disbursed on J.K.'s behalf.

¶ 9 In October of 2007, J.K.'s social worker suggested that Attorney Voss establish a burial fund for J.K. Attorney Voss opened a separate account at People's State Bank in December of 2007. The account was titled “[J.J.K.] Richard [W.] Voss, Guardian” to be held as a burial account. Attorney Voss transferred $5,690 from his trust account into J.K.'s burial account.

¶ 10 Between 1987 and 1996, Attorney Voss filed annual accountings with the Oneida County circuit court regarding his guardianship for J.K. In January of 1998, the circuit court entered an order waiving any further annual accountings for J.K., finding, based on Attorney Voss's representations, that it was unlikely J.K. would have an estate worth more than $1,000 in the foreseeable future. After 1998, Attorney Voss periodically filed affidavits with the circuit court advising the court that J.K.'s assets remained under $1,000 in the preceding calendar year. Attorney Voss filed no further accounting until 2008.

¶ 11 On April 16, 2008, Attorney Voss filed an annual accounting with the Oneida County circuit court showing that J.K. had assets of $10,102.06 as of December 31, 2007. Following J.K.'s death, on December 8, 2008, Attorney Voss filed a summary assignment petition showing J.K.'s assets totaling $14,145.93.

¶ 12 Since the circuit court had believed that J.K.'s assets had not exceeded $1,000 in any calendar year, the court requested an explanation from Attorney Voss regarding J.K.'s assets. At the direction of the circuit court, Oneida County Register in Probate Susan Ohman also began communicating with Attorney Voss asking for information about J.K.'s assets.

¶ 13 The circuit court subsequently obtained records from the VA for all amounts paid to it on J.K.'s behalf and obtained records from the Social Security Administration to confirm J.K.'s income from 1990 until the date of his death. Ms. Ohman performed a “rough fraud audit” and determined there was more than $40,000 in income attributable to J.K. that Attorney Voss had not accounted for that should have been in Attorney Voss's client trust account. Ultimately, the circuit court concluded that Attorney Voss had not accounted for $46,103.88 of J.K.'s funds.

¶ 14 The circuit court removed Attorney Voss as a special administrator of J.K.'s estate and appointed former Register in Probate Maxine Meyer as special administrator of the estate. After demand was made by Meyer pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 943.20(1)(b) in October of 2009, Attorney Voss sent two checks to Meyer to reimburse J.K.'s estate. The first check was in the amount of $44,501.88, and the second check was in the amount of $1,602.

[850 N.W.2d 193]

¶ 15 In correspondence dated August 14, 2009, Attorney Voss told Ohman that he did not keep good track of what money was going in and out of his trust account, that he did not maintain separate trust account ledgers for each client, and that his recordkeeping problems were compounded by the fact that client monies of his brother, Attorney Frederick Voss, were also in his trust account.

¶ 16 On September 11, 2009, during a meeting with Ohman and a detective from the Oneida County sheriff's department, Attorney Voss said that when he received a bankruptcy retainer fee, he would deposit the client's retainer check into his business account and then, when he paid the bankruptcy filing fee, he would pay it out of his trust account using J.K.'s money.

¶ 17 In December of 2009, Oneida County Circuit Court Judges Mark A. Mangerson and Patrick F. O'Melia filed a grievance with the OLR, asking for an investigation into Attorney Voss's conduct while he was serving as the guardian of the person and estate of J.K. On January 28, 2010, the OLR sent Attorney Voss a letter providing notice of the investigation into the J.K. matter. The OLR requested certain information and records, including copies of Attorney Voss's banking and trust account records for the time period he served as J.K.'s guardian. Attorney Voss was unable to provide the OLR with copies of all bank statements, cancelled checks or imaged checks, and deposit slips and items he was required to maintain pursuant to SCR 20:1.15.

¶ 18 Although Attorney Voss provided the OLR with a transaction register for the requested time period, the register failed to maintain a running balance, failed to document all deposits and disbursements, failed to identify the client matter regarding all deposits and disbursements, and included inaccurate entries.

¶ 19 In a March 9, 2010 letter sent in response to the OLR's investigative request that he describe in detail his procedures for managing J.K.'s funds, Attorney Voss described a process that looked at the overall balance in his trust account compared to the overall disbursements, but that did not include recording specific deposits and disbursements for J.K.

¶ 20 In a letter to the OLR dated August 22, 2011, Attorney Voss explained his firm's procedures for handling client money between January 1, 2004, and October 31, 2008. He said:

[M]ost of the money which was deposited into the client trust account was for work done on bankruptcy cases and a flat fee was agreed upon between myself and the client. That fee included an amount to be paid for filing fees and an amount for the work to be done and was payable in full before the work would be done due to the fact that most bankruptcy clients are not good risks to pay attorney fees after their case is filed. The funds would be deposited in the amount necessary to pay the filing fees which was done in every bankruptcy case and...

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5 practice notes
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Krill (In re Krill), No. 2017AP2435-D
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • February 20, 2020
    ...In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jelinske, 2018 WI 94, 383 Wis. 2d 604, 917 N.W.2d 542 ; In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis. 2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190 ; and In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Meisel, 2017 WI 40, 374 Wis. 2d 655, 893 N.W.2d 558. Ultimatel......
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Jelinske (In re Jelinske), No. 2016AP1897-D
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • September 12, 2018
    ...and other personal and financial issues, as well as attorney's lack of prior discipline); In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis. 2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190 (18-month suspension for 11 counts of stipulated misconduct, which included converting over $48,000 of client's ......
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Voss (In re Voss), No. 2012AP931-D & 2014AP2086-D
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • March 1, 2018
    ...violations, and making misrepresentations to the circuit court about the client's assets. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis. 2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190. In 2015, Attorney Voss's law license was suspended for a period of 60 days, to run consecutive to the disciplin......
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Voss (In re Voss), No. 2014AP2086–D.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • December 8, 2015
    ...Attorney Voss is already under suspension pursuant to the 18–month suspension ordered in In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis.2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190, which runs until February 22, 2016.¶ 2 The parties' stipulation did not contain an agreement regarding the approp......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Krill (In re Krill), No. 2017AP2435-D
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • February 20, 2020
    ...In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Jelinske, 2018 WI 94, 383 Wis. 2d 604, 917 N.W.2d 542 ; In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis. 2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190 ; and In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Meisel, 2017 WI 40, 374 Wis. 2d 655, 893 N.W.2d 558. Ultimatel......
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Jelinske (In re Jelinske), No. 2016AP1897-D
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • September 12, 2018
    ...and other personal and financial issues, as well as attorney's lack of prior discipline); In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis. 2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190 (18-month suspension for 11 counts of stipulated misconduct, which included converting over $48,000 of client's ......
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Voss (In re Voss), No. 2012AP931-D & 2014AP2086-D
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • March 1, 2018
    ...violations, and making misrepresentations to the circuit court about the client's assets. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis. 2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190. In 2015, Attorney Voss's law license was suspended for a period of 60 days, to run consecutive to the disciplin......
  • Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Voss (In re Voss), No. 2014AP2086–D.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • December 8, 2015
    ...Attorney Voss is already under suspension pursuant to the 18–month suspension ordered in In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Voss, 2014 WI 75, 356 Wis.2d 382, 850 N.W.2d 190, which runs until February 22, 2016.¶ 2 The parties' stipulation did not contain an agreement regarding the approp......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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