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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a formal opinion today concluding that Wisconsin attorneys who have had their law licenses suspended or revoked for any reason, whether disciplinary or administrative, are not statutorily entitled to permanent notary public commissions. Upon reinstatement of their law licenses, however, attorneys are entitled to a fixed 4-year notary public commission that can be renewed.
Van Hollen's opinion came in response to a request from the Secretary of State, through the Secretary's Deputy Secretary. The Secretary of State issues certificates of appointments as a notary public. The request noted that the Secretary of State had become aware of classes of attorney license revocations and suspensions that had not been reported to it by the Board of Bar Examiners.
Van Hollen's holding was based on a plain reading of the statutes governing notary public commissions, which do not distinguish among classes of suspensions and revocations. Van Hollen's opinion also examined Supreme Court rules, which classify disciplinary suspensions and administrative suspensions alike. An attorney may have his or her law license suspended if he or she violates the rules of professional conduct (a disciplinary suspension) or if he or she fails to pay bar dues or complete mandatory continuing education requirements (an administrative suspension).
Van Hollen's opinion further held that if an attorney's law license is suspended or revoked for any reason while the attorney holds a permanent notary public commission, there is only one way in which the attorney's permanent notary commission is revoked: upon the Supreme Court's filing of a notice of surrender, suspension, or revocation with the Secretary of State. Van Hollen concluded that the revocation of an attorney's notary commission is not retroactive to the date on which the attorney's law license was suspended or revoked. Rather, the revocation date is the date on which the Supreme Court filed its notice of surrender, suspension, or revocation with the Secretary of State.
Opinions of the Attorney General provide guidance about the meaning and application of Wisconsin law, and are often requested where Wisconsin appellate courts have not definitively answered a question or to address legal questions that are unlikely to be resolved in the course of judicial proceedings. Though Wisconsin courts do not have any mandatory obligation to follow an interpretation provided by a formal opinion of the Attorney General, they often will. As the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has written, "Well-reasoned attorney general's opinions have persuasive value when a court later addresses the meaning of the same statute."