Friday, July 20, 2007

No Big Deal

As a former bar prosecutor, I have some experience in reading hearing panel reports absolving the accused lawyer of the charged violations. The findings often follow a pattern exemplified by a hearing board report filed yesterday in Illinois.

The attorney was accused of violating Rule 8.4(c)(dishonesty). He was employed by a school board and was concerned he might lose the job if a certain slate of candidates were elected. He arranged for and funded a videotape critical of the candidates. He paid for media distribution. He made "false  and misleading" statements on required forms (concealing his involvement) and misled an inquiring reporter. Charged with violations of election laws, he was found by the State Board of Elections to "have committed all the [election law] violations charged...with the intent to deceive the voters..." The findings were affirmed on appeal.

The Hearing Board invokes the "high level of certainty" needed to sustain a disciplinary charge. Noting the accused's motive to retain employment, and the willful election law violations, the board found that he "would benefit little by falsifying election disclosure forms." Further, "we find it reasonable for the Respondent to believe, at the time, that he was not violating the Election Code..." The board opines that election officials do not consider such violations "very serious."

Then, the inevitable hand-wringing: "Although we find that the charges were not proven by clear and convincing evidence, we do not mean to condone the overall conduct of the Respondent. He displayed a lackadasical attitude in preparing and filing election disclosure forms...the lack of good judgment does not necessarily consitute ethical misconduct."

At least they didn't attack the motives and professionalism of the bar prosecutor. Sometimes they do. (Mike Frisch)

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