June 8, 2009
A summary from the IARDC web page of a case decided by the Illinois Review Board:
The Administrator charged Norton with misconduct in connection with her representation of a defendant in a first degree murder case. The Administrator alleged that Norton communicated with another defendant in the case who was represented by a lawyer without obtaining the other lawyer’s consent; suppressed evidence that she had a legal obligation to reveal or produce; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; withdrew from employment without delivering all papers and property to which her client was entitled; engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; and engaged in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute. Norton admitted some of the allegations, denied others, and denied all allegations of misconduct.
The Hearing Board found that the Administrator proved that Norton spoke with and took a sworn statement from another defendant in the murder case without obtaining his lawyer’s consent; failed to turn over the sworn statement to her client after Norton’s representation of him ended; acted dishonestly when she told her client that she had no evidence in the case that he could not get from the State’s Attorney; and engaged in conduct that tended to bring the legal profession into disrepute.
The Hearing Board found that the Administrator did not prove that Norton acted dishonestly by writing on the jail visitor’s record that she was visiting her client when she actually was visiting another defendant for the purpose of taking his statement; suppressed evidence from opposing counsel or the court; and engaged in conduct that prejudiced the administration of justice. The Hearing Board recommended that Norton’s license be suspended for forty-five days.
On review, the Administrator argued that he proved that Norton acted dishonestly by writing the wrong name on the jail visitor’s record and that her conduct prejudiced the administration of justice. The Administrator further asserted that Norton’s license should be suspended for six months.
The Review Board reversed the challenged findings of no misconduct. It determined that the Administrator proved that Norton acted dishonestly when she wrote the wrong name on the jail visitor’s record and that her conduct prejudiced the administration of justice. The Review Board affirmed the Hearing Board’s remaining findings of fact and misconduct. It concluded that a ninety-day suspension was warranted.
The Review Board found the Hearing Board's proposed sanction to be unduly harsh:
We conclude that a six-month suspension would be punitive and is not warranted under the circumstances of this case. This is especially true in light of the Respondent’s substantial mitigating evidence. Numerous character witnesses, including attorneys who were involved in the Mixon case as well as a circuit court judge, testified that the Respondent has an excellent reputation for honesty and integrity. In addition, she performs a significant amount of pro bono work each year and is active in her community.
The Respondent also recognized that it was wrong for her to talk to Bell without his attorney’s consent, and she testified that she was sorry if her conduct prejudiced the administration of justice or brought the legal profession into disrepute. The Respondent has no prior discipline in over fifteen years of practice. The evidence presented to the Hearing Board suggests that the Respondent’s misconduct resulted from an isolated error in judgment in an otherwise capable legal career. Accordingly, after considering all of the relevant circumstances and case law, we recommend that the Respondent’s license to practice law be suspended for ninety (90) days.
The Review Board's recommendation is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
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