by Brian Mahany
Yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended a St. Croix Falls lawyer Warren Brandt’s license to practice law. He is ineligible to practice for the next four months. Afterwards, he must undergo any necessary monitoring and treatment for alcohol dependency. Everyone in society can suffer from alcoholism – we have seen lawyers, doctors, police officers and even judges who are alcoholics. The news isn’t the suspension of Brandt’s law license, it’s the system’s slow process in protecting the public.
The story regarding attorney Brandt didn’t begin and end yesterday in a Madison courtroom. It began almost two decades ago and involved multiple warnings and red flags.
According to the court’s opinion, Brandt was first reprimanded in 1994 for two ethics violations. Neither appear to be substance abuse related, although chemical dependency often leads to impaired judgment.
Nine years later, Brandt was reprimanded again for a series of ethical violations.
A year later in 2004 he was slapped yet again for “failure to provide competent representation” to a client.
If that’s not enough, in 2009 he was reprimanded for not reviewing his trust account records. Although not accused of stealing any money, by not checking the accounts another employee was able to steal $104,000 of client funds from his account. He was also reprimanded for a 3rd and 4th drunk driving conviction.
Brandt received a chemical dependency assessment that listed a diagnosis of “alcohol dependency in remission.” Apparently his drinking problems did not remain in remission for long. According to the court, 4 months later he was charged with felony drunk driving in Minnesota. That charge 2 years ago ultimately resulted in yesterday’s suspension.
Brandt’s past has finally caught up with him and hopefully the 4 months suspension will get his attention. (The Supreme Court’s decision to only reprimand him back in 2009 was not unanimous. Back then Justice Bradley sought to suspend his license instead of yet another reprimand.)
Brandt cooperated with the investigation and admits his problems with alcohol. We in no way make light of that admission and wish him the best. Our fear, however, is that for perhaps a decade or more Brandt may have been impaired and may have provided client’s with poor legal representation. His record certainly suggests that. He is not alone.
We are aware of one attorney locally who was arrested for driving to court drunk. That same attorney was also reportedly observed by someone passed out drunk under his desk.
Everyone knows that alcohol and driving don’t mix. Neither do alcohol and medicine, alcohol and firearms and alcohol and law. Hopefully, the Wisconsin Supreme Court can find away to speed up the disciplinary process while still protecting the rights of the accused lawyer. Clients have rights too and those rights aren’t properly served when the disciplinary process involves countless reprimands with no consequences.
2018 Update: Today Attorney Brandt’s license to practice law is in good standing. We sincerely hope that this problems are permanently behind him. After his 2012 suspension, the Wisconsin Supreme Court took additional action against him, all for activity which took place before the suspension however. Although he was reprimanded in 2013, the reprimand was over activity which took place in 2011 before his suspension.
[Ed. Note: This post is both relevant and current. New legal malpractice information and stories, however, is now posted at US Legal Malpractice.
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