Former Burnett County DA Reprimanded For Asking Female Defendants Out On Dates

Office Of Lawyer Regulation: William Nordine Used Social Media To Pursue Women, Share Notes With Criminal Defendant

Joe Gratz (CC)

Former Burnett County District Attorney William Norine has been reprimanded by the state Office of Lawyer Regulation for pursuing dates with female defendants, some of which had active cases in the county criminal court. Norine allegedly even payed a portion of a phone bill for one woman.

On Feb. 15 the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) issued a public reprimand against Norine, citing three professional conduct rules he is accused of breaking during his time as Burnett County District Attorney.

Norine retired from his position in August and has no other disciplinary record with the OLR. He has said his retirement is not tied to the accusations, which were first made public in September.

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The reprimand carries no fines or penalties other than a public accounting of the actions deemed improper by OLR.

The document lists three violations, including conflict of interest, not withdrawing himself from criminal prosecutions in which he had a conflict of interest and harassing a person on the basis of sex.

Specific examples of Norine’s conflict of interest included Facebook messages he sent to women who had pending criminal cases in Burnett County, according to the OLR reprimand.

“In one matter, Norine offered to buy dinner and ‘compare notes’ with a woman who had a pending Burnett County criminal case as well as a pending Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) case,” the reprimand states. “The woman claimed she was desperate to get her children back and was in a vulnerable position.”

The OLR reprimand states Norine told another woman who had a pending criminal case in Burnett County that she was a “wonderful beautiful person” who inspired him and offered to pay her phone bill if she “had time to meet.”

“At one point, the woman, who was represented by counsel, missed a court date and Norine communicated with her through Facebook, even offering to pick her up after a bench warrant was issued and buy her lunch after the matter was resolved,” according to the OLR reprimand.

In a third instance mentioned by OLR, Norine had lunch with a woman the Burnett County District Attorney’s Office was prosecuting, though at the time of the meeting she “purportedly had no pending charges.”

“In Facebook messages, he called the woman ‘babe’ and at one point paid for 3 gigabytes of data on her cell phone,” according to the reprimand. “When she informed Norine that she was worried about a new pending charge and an anticipated sentence of probation, Norine advised her not to worry as ‘We usually take a non-criminal ordinance plea on those no probation.’”

Attempts to reach Norine, who is still listed by the Wisconsin State Bar as an active attorney in good standing, were unsuccessful. A phone call, email and a Facebook message sent to an account with his name, photo and previous job were not returned. But on Sept. 24, Norine responded to a Twin Cities TV news story listing the allegations against him through a statement issued to the Burnett County Sentinel:

“This is a small community. Many of the people I prosecuted are my friends, many I have known for many years. Some are my friends on Facebook. I did not see the piece but the person who was interviewed added me as her Facebook friend earlier this year. We have exchanged some messages back and forth. I have never spent time with her in person. I bear no ill will toward her whatsoever. And I regret if I made her feel uncomfortable, which was never my intent.”

Dean Dietrich chairs the Committee for Professional Ethics for the State Bar of Wisconsin. Deitrich is also a member of the Wisconsin Public Radio Association Board of Directors. In an interview with WPR, he said the rules set forth by the Wisconsin Supreme Court for attorneys to follow are meant to limit conflicts of interest in courtrooms throughout the state. Dietrich referred to the reprimand as a minor disciplinary action.

“The purpose of a public reprimand is to clearly indicate to the lawyer involved that his behavior was questionable and he should really be more careful,” Dietrich said. “It’s also designed to educate other lawyers that behavior of this type would not be considered appropriate behaviors for a lawyer and it just documents the conduct.”

Marquette Law School professor Dan Blinka painted the public reprimand as something more serious.

“Although I can’t comment on the conduct involved in this case, my experience is that a public reprimand is regarded as a serious sanction for misconduct because any professional (you, me) values his or her reputation,” Blinka wrote in an email. “No lawyer (or doctor, accountant, etc.) is sanguine about being publicly singled out for professional misconduct. It is a professional rebuke … My point: a public reprimand is regarded as a serious sanction, not a ‘slap.’”