RACINE — A local attorney has received a six-month suspension for allegedly making sexual comments and advances toward a female client.
In a ruling published Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court stated it was tripling the two-month suspension, recommended by a court-appointed referee who initially reviewed the matter, of Robert J. Baratki.
“Attorney Baratki’s efforts to leverage his position of trust for personal gratification deserves more than the 60-day minimum suspension,” the ruling states.
In addition to the sexual misconduct, Baratki was also accused of failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in his representation of another client, and for practicing law without a license for about three weeks in 2015.
While Baratki has twice been privately reprimanded — once in 2006 for starting a sexual relationship with a client and again in 2014 for practicing law when his license was suspended — the court’s ruling covers three distinct complaints of misconduct that took place in 2014 and 2015.
Attempts to reach Baratki on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
In July 2015, a former client filed a grievance with the state Office of Lawyer Regulation, alleging that Baratki had sent her flirtatious and sometimes sexual text messages in 2014 while he was her divorce lawyer.
In one instance, Baratki sent a text to the client in which he reportedly stated she “could stop over for a 10- or 15-minute pawing.”
She also alleged that during one meeting Baratki had lifted her shirt and kissed her abdomen.
When the OLR attempted to investigate the claims, Baraki reportedly provided incomplete copies of his communications with the client and failed to get back to the agency when they asked him to respond to the allegations.
Another grievance covered by the ruling stems from his reported failure to represent another woman who had hired him to be her divorce attorney. After he neglected to appear for a scheduling conference involving the woman’s case in March 2015, he allegedly told the court that he no longer represented the woman, but neglected to file an official notice of withdrawal with the court.
The investigation into Baratki’s lapsed law license was initiated by the OLR itself. According to the court ruling, Baratki had been notified on Sept. 30, 2015, that his law license was going to suspended if he didn’t pay his dues and sign a trust account certification by Oct. 31 of that year.
Although he did send in his dues on Nov. 2, he never submitted his trust account certification, resulting in his license being suspended. Despite his license being suspended, Baratki reportedly continued to practice law, appearing in court or filing documents in 15 cases, according to the ruling. When the OLR began investigating the matter in December 2015, Baratki failed to respond the agency’s requests by the deadline.
“Taken together, Attorney Baratki’s serious and troublingly familiar misconduct renders a 60-day suspension an insufficient response,” the state Supreme Court states in its ruling.
“He abused his position of trust as a lawyer, practiced law during a suspension, violated the duties attendant to withdrawing from representation of a client, and disregarded his obligation to cooperate with the OLR. Given his course of conduct, we deem it imperative that, to resume the practice of law in Wisconsin, Attorney Baratki show this court that he has taken steps to avoid similar misdeeds in the future.”