Monday, July 2, 2007
An Illinois public defender who was permitted to take private cases was reprimanded by a hearing board. The attorney had been appointed to a case where the defendant was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He told the client's grandmother "that he could spend more time on the case if she paid him $3,000 in attorney fees." He received a check in that amount and negotiated a plea that led to a probation sentence. He did not enter an appearance as retained counsel. The grandmother stopped payment on the check. The lawyer tried to get the grandmother arrested when she declined to replace the check. No criminal charges were brought.
The hearing board found that the lawyer did not take necessary steps to explain alternatives so that the client could make an informed decision about retaining him as counsel. The failure to enter an appearence as retained counsel violated Illinois Rule 3.3(a)(8)(attorney must disclose identity of client and persons who employ counsel unless information is privileged or irrelevant). A dissent would find the lawyer credible and impose no discipline. (Mike Frisch)