A law firm based in Kenosha and Racine abruptly closed its doors last Friday, October 13, 2023, shy of three years since its opening. Criminal defendants, family court litigants, employers of the firm, and others, are speaking out about what many are calling negligent behavior from the firm’s owner. Paton Law Office, S.C. is owned by its namesake, attorney David D. Patton.
David D. Patton graduated law school in 2013 from the University of Minnesota Law School. Apart from Minnesota, he’s lived in Virginia, South Dakota, and then settled here in Wisconsin. Patton has about 10 years under his belt as an attorney.
Patton came to Wisconsin in mid 2019 and passed the Wisconsin Bar on October 15, 2019. He got a job as a public defender in January of 2020. He worked for the Kenosha Public Defender’s Office for less than a year, before he decided to work on his own and take clients privately. About a year later, he would start a multi-attorney law firm. Apart from being a lawyer, Patton is also a social justice advocate. On his website, he advertised all of his employees’ pronouns such as they/them and listed some of the employees’ sexual preferences. He called the group “The Scooby Gang.” He had an office pet turtle, and a community resource bulletin board, where clients could find healthcare providers to inject gender-affirming hormones into their body to “transition.” Patton also gave 10% discounts to clients of color. Over the next two years, Patton would hire more than ten attorneys, four paralegals , an investigator, a director of operations and client support, a legal assistant, and a virtual intake coordinator. Some attorneys had fancy titles, like “Director of Litigation,” “Director of Family Law,” and more.
For other attorneys and people working in the legal system, this didn’t seem to make sense. Very successful attorneys in the Kenosha and Racine area worked for many years or decades before hiring support staff. A lawyer has to stay extremely busy and make a lot of money to guarantee a paycheck for a single paralegal, let alone a support staff this large. Patton, as it seems, was building a house of cards.
Patton’s far-left-learning ideology caught the attention of many prominent liberal politicians in Racine – like Mayor Cory Mason and the now-disgraced City Council President, John Tate. These politicians liked him so much, that they gave him a government loan to buy a large office building in Racine. The Mayor and Council president were present for the ribbon cutting.
The first tangible sign of the impending toppling of the house of cards that Patton built would come on September 18, 2023. Patton penned a letter to the local attorneys and judges, advising them that he was leaving the practice of law. He asked the judges to allow him to withdraw from his cases. In Wisconsin, once an attorney becomes a person’s lawyer, he or she cannot “quit” without a judge’s order. This is to protect litigants and criminal defendants. In the letter, Patton takes a jab, saying “One would hope that all judges and attorneys would be kind (or at least decent) under these circumstances. However, that has not been my experience here in (sic) SE Wisconsin legal system.”
On September 20, 2023, Patton would pen a second letter. In this letter, he contradicts his first, saying “To be clear, I am not leaving the practice of law.” He told the judges and lawyers that he is only taking an extended absence from practicing. Patton then went on to apologize for the tone of his precious letter.
According to a search ran on the online judicial database, CCAP, KCE can say that about 332 clients have Patton Law Office, S.C. as their attorneys of record. All of these clients are at risk of having no representation, or limited representation.
On October 12, 2023, two lawyers that have worked with Patton Law Office since its inception, wrote a letter to the judges in Kenosha and Racine. In the letter they say that Patton Law Office is bankrupt. It has no money to pay the many employees. The letter goes on to say that “The albatross of Patton Law’s failure hangs around Attorney Patton’s neck alone.” Since the employees of the firm that are working on cases that were prepaid to the firm will never be paid again, they are asking the judges for permission to withdraw from their cases, leaving the clients without representation. A source close to the judges suggested to KCE that the judges will probably err on the side of the defendants and deny motions to withdraw based solely on finances. After all, the clients have paid many thousands of dollars to the firm to be represented. Is it fair that they lose their lawyer? A client of Patton Law said that they were encouraged to take out a high-interest loan to pay for their legal fees. The interest is as high as 20%. KCE has been made aware that this happened often at the firm.
KCE spoke to many lawyers in the community about this scandal. They are mixed in their speculations of Patton’s actions. They all think that Patton acted negligently, at the least. Some believe he has a large amount of money and gained financially with this behavior. Others think he was simply a terrible businessman and lost all the money by overspending and biting off way more than he could chew. Either way, he risks criminal prosecution, disbarment, and more, according to legal experts that spoke to KCE on the condition of anonymity. In general, a lawyer cannot spend money from a retainer until it’s earned. For example, if an attorney received a $10,000 retainer, he or she must place that money in a trust account and can only withdraw when the hours are worked. That way, if the lawyer needs to withdraw, or is fired, the client can have the unearned portion refunded. In the case of Patton, it looks like the clients are all unable to receive refunds, as the money is all gone. There could be serious ethical repercussions for this.
KCE spoke to Chief Judge Jason Rossell about the issues with Patton Law Office. He told us that he is aware of the allegations surrounding Patton Law Office, but cannot make a specific comment. He did offer us the following statement:
“Generally, the Office of Lawyer Regulation and the Fund for client protection are involved in situations such as these. In terms of substitution and withdrawal, that is a case by case, and judge by judge determination.”
If you are a client of Patton Law Office, S.C. and you have a question about your path forward, you can call your attorney and or reach out to the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation at (608) 267-7274 or the Fund for Client Protection at WLFCP@wisbar.org. You can also email or call us for guidance.
Kenosha County Eye spoke with Attorney Patton Monday afternoon. Patton confirmed that Patton Law Office is closed and denied any rumors that he has benefited financially from this issue. “Patton Law is broke and so am I,” said Patton. “In 2021, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and PTSD. This past September 2, 2023 I suffered a mental breakdown. I’m currently in intensive treatment and hope to soon be on the road to recovery.”
Patton says that he pledges to make whole all clients and former employees no matter what it takes. “I took out several loans to keep the business afloat but they just weren’t enough… among other issues, growing too fast and hiring too much staff wasn’t the right thing to do.” Patton says he is currently liquidating what he can and taking steps to collect resources.
Patton told us he had several financing options for clients. One was based on credit and another was for clients who did not have good credit. Patton says he was promised that the company would take care of collections and non-payment, but said they reneged. He said too many clients did not pay which was a significant contribution to the bankrupting of the firm.
Patton says that he wishes some people had a little more compassion for his mental health issue but says he is still always willing to help somebody in need.