Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a three-year suspension of a Stoughton attorney’s law license on 40 counts of professional misconduct involving nine clients plus a trust account and other violations.
It is the third suspension for James Hammis, an attorney for 31 years, who had been suspended in 2011 for four months and for 90 days in 2015, both for misconduct. The violations all occurred between 2008 and 2012.
Efforts to contact Hammis for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Hammis no longer makes a living as an attorney and only does legal work for a single corporate client and on a non-cash basis for a few friends, according to justices’ comments in the 2019 case. He now is the president of Value Construction Group, according to a LinkedIn account in his name and multiple area news reports.
In the 2019 case, Hammis stipulated to 40 counts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation and failing to respond to the state Office of Lawyer Regulation requests. In exchange, the OLR dismissed nine counts.
The referee appointed to hear the case found many of the Supreme Court rule violations alleged in this case were similar to those in Hammis’ two prior disciplinary decisions. Given the repeated nature of the alleged misconduct, the referee recommended the Supreme Court revoke Hammis’ license.
The OLR’s complaint alleged Hammis mislead and abandon clients, practiced bankruptcy law while suspended, and committed serious trust account malfeasance, “almost every aspect of practicing law and shows a pervasive pattern of disregarding the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
Hammis contested the recommended license revocation and contended that a one-year suspension was proper.
By a 5-2 vote, the state’s high court adopted the referee’s findings about Hammis’ misconduct but concluded that a three-year suspension was the appropriate sanction.
The court’s majority found Hammis’ conduct “shows a clear pattern of neglect of his clients’ needs and objectives and an utter disregard for his obligations as an attorney.”
However, it noted revocation is reserved the most egregious violations and Hammis’ conduct does not rise to that level.
Justices Annette Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley dissented, stating that a three-year suspension is not warranted. They noted he had committed no misconduct since his 2015 suspension. He also doesn’t want to expand his practice in the future, Ziegler wrote.
The 42-page Supreme Court order detailed the misconduct found in Hammis’ representing clients. That included a former director of recreation for the city of Janesville who was about to be dismissed.
Hammis received a $2,000 advance fee from the client in 2010 and agreed to attend all city meetings involving her. After she was fired in December 2010, she told Hammis to file a discrimination complaint against the city, which he never did.
A year later, Hammis believed he no longer represented the client but never gave her an accounting of his work in her behalf. The client filed a grievance with the OLR in February 2011 which Hammis did not respond to until July 2011. Hammis never responded to the OLR’s request for time sheets and phone logs Hammis said he had.
The court also ordered Hammis to pay $400 in restitution to a former client and the $13,160 cost of the OLR’s investigation.
The restitution order stemmed from Harris taking a $400 fee and but failing to draft LLC documents for a client. The client eventually obtained a $400 judgment against Hammis in small claims court which he has not paid.
If Hammis seeks to have his license reinstated, the court ordered, he must work under an approved legal mentor for two years and limit his practice to his single corporate client and assisting friends and family.