Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Split Sanction Proposed

The Illinois Review Board has recommended a two-year suspension with the second year stayed in favor of probation in a case where the lawyer had neglected an appeal, forged a child support order and other court documents, and had been convicted of attempted obstruction of justice and attempted forgery in two separate cases.  The Administrator (i.e. Bar Counsel) had sought a three-year suspension without a stay for probation. Mitigation evidence was presented that the lawyer's wife had a history of mental illness and had set the family home on fire. Medical evidence established that the lawyer had a history of panic disorder and personality disorder but that the misconduct "was volitional and within his conscious control."

In rejecting the arguments in favor of more severe discipline, the Review Board concluded:

Laz's misconduct was serious, but we also consider the evidence in mitigation, including the lack of prior discipline, favorable testimony about Laz's character from two respected judges and an attorney, and the Hearing Board's finding that personal gain was not the motivation for Laz's misconduct. After considering these and all of the relevant circumstances, we recommend that Laz's license to practice law be suspended for two years, with the suspension stayed after one year subject to conditional probation.

Last, we note that counsel for the Administrator argues for the first time in her reply brief that the Review Board should take judicial notice of the fact that a new disciplinary complaint has been filed against Laz (In re Laz, No. 07 CH 121, complaint filed Dec. 12, 2007) as evidence of a propensity to commit further misconduct. While we may take judicial notice of the public records of the Commission (In re Owen, 144 Ill.2d 372, 378-79, 581 N.E.2d 633 (1991)), it would be unfair to give any consideration to the newly filed complaint because the issue was not raised until the reply brief, and Laz has had no opportunity to respond. Moreover, there has been no proof of the new charges. We will not use unproven allegations as a basis for our sanction recommendation.

I'm not sure I agree with that last part. I would think that, rather than forward a probation recommendation with fresh charges pending, it might be prudent to hold the disposition until all pending charges are adjudicated. On the other hand, if the recommendation is adopted, the attorney will be suspended while the new charges work their way through the system. (Mike Frisch)

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