A Brookfield attorney is in trouble again.
Mark Ruppelt, who was reprimanded in 2014 for having a sexual relationship with a client, has had his license suspended for 15 months for 16 counts of misconduct, including the misuse of $50,000.
According to a July 7 order from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Ruppelt admitted to the misuse of $50,000 worth of funds paid by a client in May of 2007. Ruppelt required money to assist with the purchase of a home for him and his then-wife; the law firm at which he is a shareholder agreed to loan $50,000 to him, according to the order.
He did repay the funds approximately three months later, but at one point, according to the order, filed an affidavit stating that “No funds have been expended for any reason other than the criminal defense of (the client).”
The remaining 11 counts of misconduct in the Supreme Court order relate to trust fund improprieties, dishonest billing practices, efforts to conceal misconduct from opposing counsel, the circuit court and the Office of Lawyer Regulation, and failure to reasonably consult with his client.
One of the counts, according to the order, stemmed from Ruppelt using his general durable power of attorney in 2008 to liquidate his client’s life insurance policy without consulting with the client. In addition, both during and after Ruppelt’s representation of the client, the client sent Ruppelt multiple letters inquiring about how much of his money remained in the firm’s trust and Ruppelt did not provide proper full accounting, according to the order.
Another count revealed 12 invoices for the client dated between February 2007 and October 2009 that were either altered or not even generated until June of 2010.
Another count of the document states that Ruppelt charged the client $395 per hour for work being performed by an associate whose hourly rate was $200, as well as for work performed by a legal assistant.
According the Supreme Court order, a referee imposed the penalty based on a stipulation between Ruppelt and the OLR.
The 15-month suspension is slightly longer than the 12-month suggestion that Ruppelt and the OLR stipulated. Ruppelt appealed that ruling, arguing that it is "excessive under our disciplinary case law, whereas the parties’ stipulated one-year suspension is appropriate length.”
According to the document, the referee made the decision based on a number of factors.
“The referee found that Attorney Ruppelt deliberately and repeatedly failed to follow trust account rules, apparently believing that he would never get caught; that he took advantage of a vulnerable client; and that he engaged in a variety of misleading and deceptive behaviors in an attempt to conceal his misconduct,” the document read.
In his appeal, Ruppelt argued that the referee’s judgment in regard to the 15-month penalty was unwarranted compared to the 1-year suspension.
“Attorney Ruppelt takes issue with the referee’s statements that his conduct was premeditated and well planned; that he appeared to believe his misconduct would never be detected; that he apparently felt that (the client) was desperate and vulnerable; that he would never have taken these liberties with a corporate or government client; and that the referee had to assume that the parties’ stipulation captured all of the improper disbursements from (the client’s) funds in trust,” the document read.
The Supreme Court ruled against Ruppelt’s arguments and backed up the referee’s ruling for a 15-month suspension. The document noted that while the court “often imposes the disciplinary sanctions that parties jointly request, we are free to reject such agreements as circumstances require.”
“This court is obligated to act as a protector of the public, the court system, and the integrity of the bar — not as a scribe charged with formalizing the parties’ mutual wishes.”
The court went on to say that it found a 15-month suspension to be necessary in order to demonstrate to both Ruppelt and other lawyers the gravity of the misconduct at hand.
“We agree with the referee that the parties’ stipulated one-year suspension does not adequately take into account the duration and severity of Attorney Ruppelt’s misconduct,” the document read.
Ruppelt declined to comment for this story.
Ruppelt’s license to practice law will be suspended for 15 months as of Aug. 18, 2017.