Thad Jelinske, 56, of Wauwatosa was led away in handcuffs after Circuit Judge Michael Aprahamian rejected the prosecutor's recommendation of a $3,000 fine as part of a plea bargain in the case.
"You're the attorney. You're supposed to be trusting and honest in everything you do," the judge said. "When you break that trust, the whole system suffers."
Jelinske was charged in September with three misdemeanor counts of theft in a business setting. He pleaded no contest to each charge Wednesday before sentencing.
District Attorney Sue Opper said the case was unusual in that it came to her office after years of litigation in probate court, and without any police investigation. She said the three misdemeanors were the most efficient charges her office could file without extensive further review of the voluminous record.
Opper said she felt $1,000 fine on each count was fair and appropriate given the collateral consequences to Jelinske — the loss of his position, money paid back to the estate by him and his firm, the likely loss of his law license and the serious damage to his reputation.
Jelinske apologized in court but offered no explanation for his conduct other than bad judgment.
His attorney, Michael Fitzgerald, said Jelinske did do some positive things for the estate but was in over his head.
But Aprahamian, a former litigator at Foley & Lardner, read from the probate judge's order that found Jelinske and his firm engaged in bad faith and deliberate misrepresentation to a "shocking" level.
The judge said if an employee for Sears or Kwik Trip had embezzled like Jelinske they'd likely go to jail, and it would send the wrong message if lawyers avoided such punishment just because they might also lose their license for the behavior.
Aprahamian also denied Jelinske's request to surrender to jail at a later date. "Sometimes it's important to stand up and be taken into custody," he said, and Jelinske was handcuffed and led off in his gray suit.
Shortly after he was charged criminally, Jelinske was also hit with an ethics complaint from the Office of Lawyer Regulation that lays out in far greater detail what the complaint calls his major mishandling of an estate left by a former client. It seeks an 18-month suspension of his law license.
Jelinske, a partner at a Milwaukee business law firm Mawicke & Goisman, had little if any experience in probate matters when he became the personal representative to the estate of Robert S. McCloud, who died in 2011. Park Bank, the estate's main creditor, became a party to the probate of the estate after the bank's lawyer felt Jelinske was not forthcoming about the estate's assets.
The bank's lawsuit was later combined with the probate matter and a trial was held in 2014. Circuit Judge Michael Bohren, who presided, rejected Jelinske's contention that he and the law firm made honest mistakes in billing the estate thousands of dollars and claiming a "success fee" of $42,000 for selling McCloud's residence.
More than $100,000 in fees have been returned to the estate, and no outstanding restitution was ordered as part of the sentence in the criminal case.
Bohren also ordered Jelinske to pay Park Bank's costs and fees, which it claims amount to $250,000. That amount has been negotiated to a confidential settlement, lawyers said Wednesday.
The criminal complaint charged that Jelinske cashed a $573.61 insurance check intended for the estate and kept the money without recording a receipt and wrote himself a check for $834.65 from an estate-related account, both in 2011. A third count charged that in 2012 Jelinske deposited a $1,565.52 payment on a life insurance policy for his former client directly into Jelinske's own account and failed to include the payment in a 2013 inventory of the estate filed with a Waukesha County court.
The OLR complaint says he also spent estate funds on suits, Allen Edmonds shoes and to pay off his wife's American Express card bill, and lied during a probate court trial in 2014 and submitted false sworn court records.
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Lawyer cuffed, jailed for estate thefts