The state Supreme Court on Thursday publicly reprimanded Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez, agreeing with a state disciplinary finding that Gonzalez committed five counts of professional misconduct involving two former clients of his law practice.
The court also ordered Gonzalez, a lawyer since 2011 and mayor of Fitchburg since 2017, to pay $9,733, the cost of the disciplinary proceeding.
The court said the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) initially filed a nine-count complaint against Gonzalez in November 2016. Five of them related to Gonzalez’s representation of a client in 2013 in a third-offense drunken driving case and some unrelated citations the client received in the city of Horicon.
The other four counts involved Gonzalez’s representation of another man charged in February 2013 with child sexual assault and child enticement. The man eventually was convicted of two charges and sentenced to six years in prison.
A lawyer representing the client during his appeal, however, charged that Gonzalez had been ineffective because one of the child enticement charges to which the man pleaded no contest lacked a factual basis and could have been dismissed.
Gonzalez also represented the same man in a paternity and child-support matter.
Gonzalez said Thursday that the matters involved are several years old and that he’s taken steps to improve his work, based on the deficiencies that were identified. He said he has since hired a paralegal and an associate attorney.
“I accept the decision and respect it as an officer of the court,” Gonzalez said.
Referee James Boll Jr. found after an August 2017 hearing that there was sufficient evidence on five of the nine counts against Gonzalez, three counts involving the first client and two involving the second.
Boll found that with the first client, there were long spans in which Gonzalez failed to communicate with the man, that he lied to him when he said he had taken certain actions in the city of Horicon case that he hadn’t and that Gonzalez had misrepresented to OLR that he was “assisting” the client with the Horicon matter and not representing him as an attorney.
On the second client, Boll found that Gonzalez had made a statement that was not credible to explain why he failed to draft an order as directed by a court in the paternity and child-support matter. Gonzalez also admitted he “misstated” that the man had not contacted him after he went to prison, in addition to other misstatements Boll found that Gonzalez made to OLR about the matter.
Gonzalez admitted to two of the five counts but disputed the other three, the decision states. While he acknowledged that “aspects of the record reflect poorly on him,” Gonzalez said the sanction against him “should be relaxed” and suggested a private reprimand rather than a public reprimand, according to the decision.
The court said it agreed that public reprimand is appropriate, finding the counts to be serious enough to warrant public discipline.
“Although Attorney Gonzalez has no disciplinary history, and even though the referee found that the OLR did not meet its burden of proof on all counts alleged in the complaint, the counts that were proven are serious enough to warrant public discipline,” the court wrote.