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SCOW suspends defense lawyer for lying and forging a court order

OLR v. Michael D. Petersen, 2016AP563-D, 12/15/17 (case activity )

I am a crook. I am a cheat. I am a thief. I am a liar. I was convicted of a crime on November 9th, 2015. My conviction resulted from my intentional choice to sell my own clients down the river and then trying to cover it up. You may not hire me or have me legally represent you in any fashion until you read the Criminal Complaint and Judgment of Conviction in my Outagamie County Wisconsin Case No. 15CM878. This disclosure is required as one of the conditions of my probation. Op. ¶34

Do we have your attention?

A client retained Attorney Petersen to represent him in two matters. In one case, Petersen told the client that if he pled no contest to a Class C felony, the charge would be amended after the hearing to a Class H felony.  That was false. So were Petersen’s repeated assurances that he was working with the ADA to amend the charge, the emails that Petersen allegedly received from the ADA, and the signed court order amending the charge. The fabrication began to unravel when the client’s father showed the forged order to the court clerk and then recorded a conversation in which Petersen told more lies.

The court reported the forged order to the police. Petersen was charged and pled no contest to violating §785.04(2)(a)–contempt of court. OLR then filed a complaint alleging 9 counts of misconduct. Op. ¶9. Petersen, who had no prior disciplinary record, stipulated to the misconduct and to OLR’s proposed 1-year suspension.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, joined by Justice Abrahamson, dissented because the disciplined imposed was too light given Petersen’s repeated egregious conduct. The referee who recommended the 1-year suspension pointed to mitigating factors such other sanctions imposed upon Petersen. For example, he was required to send the letter quoted at the outset of this post, along with a copy of the criminal complaint, to every client he dealt with in the next year. He had to refund $5,000 to his client. And he was sentenced to one year of probation conditioned on 30 days in jail with Huber privileges and with 25 of those days stayed. Op. ¶34.

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