Disbarred lawyer Robert Menard, who prosecutors say pocketed or mishandled as much as $1 million from clients and his ex-law partner, was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction Thursday.
In addition, Milwaukee County Judge Milton Childs also sentenced the once-prominent lawyer to four years in prison, followed by four years of extended supervision. The judge, however, stayed the prison time. He also ordered Menard to do 100 hours of community service.
The sentence was imposed near the end of a nearly two-hour sentencing hearing during which four of Menard’s victims, some sobbing or holding back tears, told the court Menard caused them financial and emotional pain. A tearful Menard apologized for his actions — an apology the judge said he accepted on behalf of Milwaukee County.
Menard in January pleaded guilty to four felony counts of theft and embezzlement for bilking clients and his now-former law partner.
On Thursday about two dozen people sat in the courtroom’s gallery, with Menard’s family and friends on the left side of the courtroom and the victims and their supporters on the other side of the aisle.
They listened quietly as a trembling and softly sobbing Menard pled for leniency and acknowledged he broke the law and violated his oath as an attorney.
“I betrayed the trust of my clients, friends, family and the profession,” Menard said. “I am ashamed and will walk a better and honest path.”
Assistant District Attorney Nicolas Heitman urged Childs to sentence Menard, 59, to four years in prison for stealing from his clients.
“His law degree was a tool to steal,” Heitman said.
At one point, the prosecutor held up a copy of the oath lawyers take and tore it in half.
“That’s what (Menard) did so many times,” Heitman said. “He used his job, his education, his position to steal — just like a robber uses a gun.”
In an interview after the hearing Heitman declined to say exactly how much money Menard is believed to have stolen, saying the figure would be determined later at a restitution hearing. Menard was initially charged in 2019 and 2020 with pocketing about $1 million from clients and his former law firm partner.
Menard had practiced law for about 30 years and was a longtime partner in the firm of Derzon & Menard. The now-defunct firm was a frequent advertiser on sports radio and billed itself as the law firm for “average Joe” and used the fictional “Joe Bob” as its mascot.
Childs noted that many of the clients in Menard’s now-defunct law firm were already hurting because they had been injured on the job and hired him to handle worker’s compensation claims.
“For the most part, the victims were (already) victims of something else” when Menard stole from them.
Menard’s attorney, Craig Mastantuono, argued Menard has already been punished, noting that his client is no longer practicing law because he was disbarred in 2020.
“The loss of one’s profession is hard to minimize,” Mastantuono said.
Although Judge Child’s accepted Menard’s apology, the felon’s uncle did not and his ex-law partner did not.
“Our children missed opportunities directly because of him,” said Alan Derzon, his former law partner. Derzon said in a victim impact statement that he lost $286,796 to Menard.
Philip Menard said his nephew’s actions caused a rift in the family and that Robert Menard still owed him $144,000. He said he asked his nephew a few years ago to represent him in a car accident case that resulted in a $500,000 settlement for the uncle.
In 2018 Philip Menard told the Journal Sentinel he had not seen a penny of the settlement. Philip Menard and his wife, Joyce Fletcher-Menard, sued their nephew in 2018 and won a $329,333 judgment.
“I wanted to believe him and believe he would not take advantage of me,” Philip Menard said in court Thursday. He added that his nephew “should spend more than three years in prison.”
“A man we trusted had clearly taken advantage of us,” Fletcher-Menard wrote in a statement to the court.
Contact Cary Spivak at (414) 550-0070 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @cspivak.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Robert Menard sentenced to six months in jail for theft, embezzlement