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Matt DePerno is "misrepresenting" the outcome of a complaint he faced, the man who filed it says

Excerpt of a black and white letter with the members of the Attorney Grievance Commission listed at the top. The State of Michigan seal is faintly visible at the top of the page.
WMUK
Detail photo of paperwork from the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.

In August The New York Times reported DePerno had faced at least five complaints before the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. Retired Van Buren County judge William Buhl filed one of them.

In an interview with WMUK, Buhl explained why he complained to the commission and why he disputes DePerno’s claim that nothing came of that complaint.

Buhl started by explaining how Matt DePerno’s legal career came to his attention.

“I had been asked by attorney Laaksonen to be an expert witness in a malpractice action against Mr. DePerno,” he said.

Buhl was referring to Paw Paw lawyer Albert Laaksonen, who sued DePerno for malpractice in 2014 on behalf of two former DePerno clients, Ronald and Cathleen Moffit. DePerno represented the couple in a tax and insurance case. But the Moffits came to believe DePerno was taking advantage of them. They hired Laaksonen, who asked Buhl to be a witness in the malpractice case.

“And as a result, I sat in a courtroom during testimony primarily from Mr. DePerno for about four days. And I listened to what he did in representing this client. And I saw what I thought were egregious billing behaviors, and also felt that the whole lawsuit that he was representing them on should never have been brought, and that he misadvised them as to the law. And then I saw how he attempted to collect from them.

“And that involved foreclosing on a mortgage that he had convinced them that he should get on their home when they disputed the bill. And I thought the conduct was outrageous enough that something should be done about it. So that's why I filed the request for investigation" with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, Buhl said.

As its name suggests, the commission investigates allegations of wrongdoing by lawyers practicing in Michigan.

Buhl said after he filed the complaint, “nothing happened for a couple of years.”

“And then after two years, I sent an email to the commission and asked them if there was, you know, a problem processing it because I thought the violations were pretty clear,” he added.

“And I felt that they were quite well documented. And I sent a lot of documentation along. And I got a response that I thought was a little defensive. That said, ‘Well, you know, we were trying to be thorough, and we don't want to rush things. And sometimes people don't cooperate. And in fact, we're talking about that case now.’

“So I waited another year, and asked again, and found out that I had been omitted from a mandatory notice of the disposition, which is required by the court rule. And they let me know what the disposition was. But it was three years after the fact and a year after the disposition,” he said.

The Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission did not respond by deadline to a request for comment on the timeline Buhl laid out. The Commission did say it cannot keep complainants from releasing AGC findings shared with them. But Buhl says he fears he could face legal action from other parties if he does so. In The Times, DePerno dismissed the results of all complaints filed against him with the Attorney Grievance Commission as “garbage” and claimed none led to discipline.

“I have publicly spoken about it to a reporter and said that that's anything but true. He is misrepresenting the disposition. I can't disclose the disposition. I'm only going to say that it isn't what Matt DePerno said it was,” Buhl said.

“I would like to see Matt DePerno asked to disclose that disposition he claims was made by the Grievance Commission on my complaint, and I’d like to see him document what he says happened,” he added.

Buhl says he’d also like to see DePerno account for hundreds of thousands of dollars he allegedly raised from people worried about fraud in the 2020 election.

The DePerno campaign did not respond to messages asking for comment.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.