Former Delavan attorney’s license suspended

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Kevin Murphy
Saturday, July 16, 2011
— A former Delavan attorney’s bankruptcy, criminal convictions and opening of his own practice while a member of another law firm led the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday to suspend his law license for three years.

James M. Schoenecker, 34, a licensed attorney since September 2004, stipulated to seven professional misconduct violations that the court stated were, “quite disturbing and calls for substantial suspension.”

According to the court’s order:

Most of Schoenecker’s misconduct stemmed from his professional and personal relationship with a woman identified only as M.F., who was engaged to marry Schoenecker in 2007. The couple opened a joint checking account, and M.F. loaned $48,500 to Schoenecker after she obtained a $100,000 letter of credit. Two days after signing a promissory note for the loan, Schoenecker made cash withdrawals from the account at a casino resulting in a $1,500 negative balance in the account.

When M.F. discovered the withdrawals, she closed the account and ended the engagement. M.F. accepted $32,106 from Schoenecker to settle the loan repayment.

In 2008, Schoenecker joined the Clair Law Firm in Lake Geneva, which required senior attorneys to pre-approve billing statements. Schoenecker was representing M.F. in a dispute with a contractor and, without approval, sent her invoices totaling $13,532. The Office of Lawyer Regulation stated the invoices were inflated in order to offset what Schoenecker owed M.F.

Schoenecker was charged in 2009 with two counts of felony identity theft in Waukesha County and one count of felony forgery in Walworth County in connection with his withdrawing funds from M.F.’s business account without her consent. He set up a bill-paying account from M.F.’s bank account and changed the email address to prevent M.F. from learning of his planned withdrawals.

Schoenecker was able to cash a $950 check from M.F.’s account but wasn’t able to cash checks for $450 and $1,750. Schoenecker plead guilty to one count of identity theft, was placed on two years’ probation and ordered to make restitution.

The forgery charge was reduced in a plea agreement to misdemeanor theft. His four-month jail sentence was stayed.

In July 2009, Schoenecker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with M.F. trying to collect on the personal loan and with the two criminal proceedings pending against him. Schoenecker falsely claimed he was unemployed but failed to disclose his solo law practice and the income he had earned from it.

Schoenecker’s bankruptcy was discharged in January 2010 but revoked six months later after he admitted to falsely testifying in a creditors meeting and failing to report his solo law practice income.

In imposing the suspension, the court wrote:

“Attorney Schoenecker engaged in a disturbing series of illegal and dishonest actions, which were designed to benefit him financially to the injury of his client, his law firm employer, and his creditors.”

In a dissent, Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said Schoenecker warranted “a greater sanction.”

A call to Schoenecker for comment wasn’t returned before deadline.

Last updated: 5:53 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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