Attorney Daniel Morse was convicted of embezzlement in Wisconsin and lost his Florida law license as a result — yet is still able to practice law here.
Attorney Daniel Morse Can STILL Practice Law Despite Embezzlement Charge
Attorney Daniel Morse was convicted of embezzlement in April in Wisconsin and lost his Florida law license in July as a result — yet is still able to practice law here.
Morse may still face discipline in Wisconsin — regulators here are asking that his license be suspended for two years. But the swift action by Florida shines a light on how different states handle attorney discipline.
Morse of Fox Point was initially charged with five felonies and three misdemeanors for transferring money from a Dodge County estate of Mary Gass to his personal and business accounts. He was the personal representative and attorney for the estate in 2014. The felony counts were dropped in a plea bargain and Morse pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
In April, he was sentenced to one year of probation and could face up to six months in the House of Correction if he violates the terms of his probation.
After his guilty plea and conviction, Morse filed a notice stating he plans to appeal.
Soon after the conviction, the Florida Bar launched an investigation that ended with it asking the Florida Supreme Court to issue an emergency suspension order against Morse's law license. Morse "appears to be causing great public harm based on his misappropriation of at least $31,867 of client funds," an attorney for the Florida Bar wrote in a petition filed June 27.
Morse maintained an office at 735 N. Water St. and in Longboat Key, Fla.
"The Bar asserts (Morse) has caused, or is likely to cause, immediate and serious harm to clients and/or the public and that immediate action must be taken for the protection of (Morse's) clients and the public," the emergency suspension petition stated.
The petition used information that resulted in the criminal case against Morse to support its call for a suspension.
One week later, the Florida Supreme Court suspended his license, ordering that he immediately stop accepting new clients in Florida and cease representing any current clients in the state after 30 days. The suspension runs "until further order of the court."
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the Office of Lawyer Regulation complaint against Morse has been working its way through the system for more than two years.
It is not unusual for attorney discipline cases to drag on for years in Wisconsin while the lawyer who is the subject of the action continues practicing and bringing in new clients. A series of Journal Sentinel stories in 2011 highlighted the slow pace of discipline and showed how the penalties imposed here are often lighter than those issued in other states. At the time, more than 135 lawyers with criminal records were practicing in Wisconsin.
In Morse's case, regulators in June 2016 charged Morse with six counts of misconduct, including conduct involving dishonesty, fraud or deceit and misrepresentation in his handling of the Gass estate.
The regulators have not, however, asked for an immediate suspension.
The OLR can, but rarely does, ask for an immediate suspension before the regulatory process is completed if the office feels "that the attorney's continued practice poses a threat to the public and to the administration of justice," an OLR spokesman has said.
It can also ask the state Supreme Court to suspend an attorney based on information contained in another state's disciplinary action. The OLR has not filed any documents seeking an immediate suspension.
Instead, it opted to continue the process that started in 2016. The agency has concluded that Morse's "misconduct and the proper level of discipline to impose for it is the subject of the current, pending disciplinary proceeding," William Weigel, Office of Lawyer Regulation litigation counsel, said in an email.
On July 2 — the same day the Florida court issued its emergency suspension order — Morse signed a stipulation admitting to four counts of professional misconduct, including conduct involving dishonesty, fraud or deceit and failing to keep his own assets separate from those of the Gass estate.
Now, the question of the proper discipline to be imposed is before a Supreme Court referee, who has conducted a hearing and is asking that lawyers on both sides submit briefs by Aug. 27.
The referee, James Mohr, will make a recommendation on what discipline should be imposed and the court will make the final decision — a process that is likely to run into next year.
It is unknown whether Morse is actively practicing.
Though his Morse Law Offices website indicates he still has offices in Florida and Wisconsin, his doors on his Milwaukee office were locked Thursday afternoon and the office appeared to be vacant. A call to his Florida office was answered by a voice mail for Morse.
During a brief phone interview, he complained about the coverage of his conviction and sentencing, saying: "The last person in the world I would want to talk to is somebody from the Journal Sentinel." He then hung up.