Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Pleas (In re Pleas), 2020AP724-D

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation401 Wis.2d 392,973 N.W.2d 446,2022 WI 29
Parties In the MATTER OF DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST Coral Dawn PLEAS, Attorney at Law: Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant, v. Coral Dawn Pleas, Respondent.
Docket Number2020AP724-D
Decision Date10 May 2022

401 Wis.2d 392
973 N.W.2d 446
2022 WI 29

In the MATTER OF DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST Coral Dawn PLEAS, Attorney at Law:

Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,
v.
Coral Dawn Pleas, Respondent.

No. 2020AP724-D

Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Opinion Filed: May 10, 2022


ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Reinstatement granted.

PER CURIAM.

401 Wis.2d 393

¶1 The court has before it the parties’ joint stipulation for Attorney Coral Dawn Pleas’

973 N.W.2d 447

reinstatement of her license to practice law in Wisconsin.

¶2 Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 22.30(5)(b), the court may consider a reinstatement petition by stipulation when, as here, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) concludes after investigation that the petitioner has demonstrated, to the OLR's director's satisfaction, that all of the reinstatement criteria have been met. See

401 Wis.2d 394

SCR 22.3051 and SCR 22.29.2 The court then considers the petition and stipulation without the appointment of a referee. SCR 22.30(5)(b). The court may approve the stipulation and

401 Wis.2d 395

reinstate the petitioner's law license, or reject the stipulation and refer the petition to a referee for a hearing, or direct the parties to consider modifications to the stipulation. Id.

¶3 Upon consideration of Attorney Pleas’ reinstatement petition, the OLR's response pursuant to SCR 22.30(4), the parties’ stipulation pursuant to SCR 22.30(5)(a), and the OLR's memorandum in support of the stipulation pursuant to SCR 22.30(5)(a), we conclude that reinstatement is appropriate.

973 N.W.2d 448

¶4 Attorney Pleas was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1993. On September 29, 2020, based on a stipulation between Attorney Pleas and the OLR, this court suspended Attorney Pleas’ Wisconsin law license for six months for misconduct arising out of her representation of a client, V.B., regarding two automobile accidents that injured V.B. See

401 Wis.2d 396

In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Pleas, 2020 WI 77, 394 Wis. 2d 6, 948 N.W.2d 901. The court determined that, during her representation of V.B. regarding the first automobile accident, Attorney Pleas committed misconduct by failing to promptly notify V.B. and V.B.’s health insurer of her receipt of $25,000 in settlement funds; failing to promptly deliver to V.B. and V.B.’s health insurer the funds to which they were entitled; failing to hold the settlement funds in trust; making disbursements from her trust account via internet banking transactions; failing to provide V.B. and V.B.’s health insurer with an accounting following final distribution of trust property; and converting the $25,000 in settlement funds to her own use. See id., ¶¶18-19, 24. The court also determined that, during her representation of V.B. regarding the second automobile accident, Attorney Pleas committed misconduct by failing to file a personal injury lawsuit prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. See id. The court also determined that, during her representation of V.B. regarding both automobile accidents, Attorney Pleas committed misconduct by failing to communicate sufficiently with V.B., including regarding the fact that the statute of limitations had expired on the second accident claim. See id. Finally, the court determined that Attorney Pleas committed misconduct by failing to file an overdraft notification agreement with the OLR. See id.

¶5 In addition to imposing a six-month license suspension, effective November 10, 2020, the court ordered Attorney Pleas to pay restitution to V.B.’s health insurer in the amount of $8,333.33 within 60 days of the date of the disciplinary decision.

401 Wis.2d 397

Id., ¶¶25-26.3 The court further ordered Attorney Pleas to comply with the provisions of SCR 22.26 concerning the duties of a person whose license to practice law in Wisconsin have been suspended. Id., ¶27.

¶6 On November 5, 2021, Attorney Pleas filed a petition for the reinstatement of her Wisconsin law license.

¶7 On January 19, 2022, the OLR filed a response to Attorney Pleas’ reinstatement petition, as required by SCR 22.30(4). In its response, the OLR explains that it investigated Attorney Pleas’ petition and found she has satisfied the criteria for reinstatement listed in SCR 22.29(4)(a)-(m).

¶8 Examining SCR 22.29(4)(a)-(m) criteria one by one, the OLR notes in its response that Attorney Pleas desires to have her law license reinstated, SCR 22.29(4)(a), and has not practiced law during the period of suspension, SCR 22.29(4)(b). She has instead done non-legal work for a local community organization.

¶9 As for the requirement in SCR 22.29(4)(c) that Attorney Pleas demonstrate full compliance with the terms of the order of suspension, the OLR notes in its response that Attorney Pleas has met this requirement, except for minor deviations that, in its view, do not warrant the denial of Attorney Pleas’ reinstatement petition. One way the OLR identifies that Attorney

973 N.W.2d 449

Pleas did not strictly comply with our September 29, 2020 disciplinary decision is that, while we ordered

401 Wis.2d 398

Attorney Pleas to pay $8,333.33 in restitution to V.B.’s health insurer within 60 days of the decision date (i.e., by late November 2020), Attorney Pleas did not pay this amount until well later, in October 2021. In another deviation from the terms of our disciplinary decision, while we required Attorney Pleas to notify her clients of her suspension by certified mail,4 she did so by regular mail. The OLR also reports that, while we required Attorney Pleas to file, within 25 days after her suspension date, an affidavit showing full compliance with her post-suspension obligations,5 she filed this affidavit belatedly.

¶10 Nevertheless, the OLR states in its response that Attorney Pleas "in an overall sense ultimately substantially complied with the Court's September 2020 decision." The OLR credits Attorney Pleas’ explanation that she satisfied her restitution obligation beyond the date we ordered because she was financially unable to do so earlier. The OLR accepts Attorney Pleas’ representation that her finances were seriously compromised by her personal health problems, the adverse effect of COVID-19 on her pre-suspension business income, and her limited post-suspension income. The OLR notes that Attorney Pleas’ troubled finances are documented in her tax returns and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings. The OLR

401 Wis.2d 399

also notes that, in Attorney Pleas’ belated post-suspension affidavit, she detailed the steps she took to wind down her practice by her suspension date, including successfully petitioning this court for a 30-day extension to the suspension date to allow her additional time to wind down her practice, refraining from taking any new cases, communicating with her clients verbally and via mail (albeit not certified mail) that she had been suspended, assisting her clients in transitioning their cases to successor counsel, advising all courts and adverse counsel of her impending suspension, and otherwise taking all necessary steps to ensure her clients suffered no prejudice due to her suspension.

¶11 As for the reinstatement criteria set forth in SCR 22.29(4)(d)-(k), the OLR notes in its response that Attorney Pleas has maintained competence and...

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