Wisconsin’s highest court approves the consensual revocation of an attorney’s law license after the attorney used her relationship with an elderly woman to transfer thousands of dollars to herself and take control of the woman’s life, including placing her in a memory care unit when she didn’t have dementia. Office of Lawyer Regulation v. Schwefel (Wis., No. 2022AP673-D, May 26, 2022).
Wisconsin attorney Laura Schwefel befriended an elderly woman, H.K., and convinced her to let Ms. Schwefel handle her finances under a power of attorney. Without H.K.’s consent, Ms. Schwefel opened a joint bank account with H.K.’s funds. She also used H.K.’s funds to purchase a condominium in her name only. Ms. Schwefel loaned H.K.’s money to another attorney and then used those funds to purchase another condominium in both their names. Ms. Schwefel eventually moved H.K. into a memory care unit even though H.K. did not have dementia.
H.K. filed a petition to remove Ms. Schewefel as power of attorney and requested an accounting. Ms. Schwefel and H.K. reached a settlement agreement in which Ms. Schwefel agreed to pay H.K. $60,000. H.K. also filed a grievance against Ms. Schwefel with the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR). The OLR filed a complaint against Ms. Schwefel for violating multiple rules of professional conduct. During the course of the OLR’s investigation, H.K. discovered Ms. Schwefel’s purchase of the first condominium and other fund misuse. Ms. Schwefel asked for consensual revocation of her license because she could not defend against the accusations. She agreed to make restitution of $75,298.13 to H.K.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court approves the consensual revocation of Ms. Schwefel’s law license, holding that Ms. Schwefel “took advantage of her friendship with a vulnerable person,” having taken H.K.’s funds for her own use as well as control of H.K.’s life. The court notes that ordinarily when an attorney and a grievant “have entered into a settlement to resolve a civil action involving matters that are related to the grievance, the OLR would not seek additional restitution.” However, the court finds that because H.K. and her attorney were not aware Ms. Schwefel had used H.K.’s funds to purchase a condominium in Ms. Schwefel’s name at the time of the settlement, restitution was appropriate. Three justices concurred, pointing out that under Wisconsin law, Ms. Schwefel could apply for readmittance after five years. The justices note that permanent revocation would be more appropriate in this case.
For the full text of this decision, go to: https://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=526415
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