Friday, April 25, 2008
An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended disbarment for misconduct outside of the practice of law. The lawyer and a non-attorney had formed a partnership "for the purpose of developing and marketing a residential condominium project in Chicago." The lawyer converted parnership funds and failed to participate in the bar proceedings. Little weight was given to the absence of prior discipline. After reviewing an earlier precedent, the board concludes:
"In the present case, as in Burnham, we find little difference between Respondent’s conduct and theft. Respondent took money that did not belong to him with the intent to deprive the company and his partner of the money.
Also in Burnham, as in the present case, the misconduct arose from actions taken by an attorney outside of the practice of law. In addressing this issue, the Hearing Board in Burnham relied on the well-established principle that an attorney 'is subject to discipline under the Rules of Professional Conduct for dishonest behavior even though he is not serving in the capacity of an attorney for the victim of his actions.' (Hearing Bd. Rpt. at p. 6). In this case, as in Burnham, the fact that Respondent’s misconduct occurred in the context of a business relationship does not impact our ability to recommend the appropriate discipline."
The issue in such cases is not whether the conduct took place in a practice setting, but whether it reflects on the characteristics necessary for the honorable practice of law. The hearing board got it right. (Mike Frisch)