Monday, July 26, 2010

Censure Proposed For Gifts From Client

The Illinois Review Board has rejected the Administrator's call for a three-month suspension and recommended a censure of an attorney who accepted $90,000 in gifts from an elderly client shortly before the client's death. The pivotal finding of the Hearing Board that the attorney did not overreach in the attorney-client relationship was affirmed by the review board. The review board concluded, contrary to the hearing board, that the conduct brought the legal profession into disrepute.

With respect to sanction:

Under the circumstances presented here, we conclude that it would be punitive to suspend Respondent. She has no prior discipline and the misconduct occurred over ten years ago. The amount of the gifts Respondent received was small relative to the size of the estate, and Respondent made full restitution to the estate four years before members of the Vermillion family filed a complaint with the ARDC. It is also significant that she did not act with a dishonest motive and had positive character evidence from four witnesses, including a retired circuit court judge and two attorneys. Additionally, Respondent was fired from her job as a staff attorney for a commercial real estate company as a result of the disciplinary charges filed against her and has not been employed as an attorney since that time.

We would recommend a sanction greater than a reprimand, however, to deter similar misconduct in the future and to impress upon Respondent and other attorneys their obligation to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct before accepting a substantial gift from a client. We conclude that a censure will make clear to Respondent the need to be vigilant about her ethical obligations without punishing her for her misconduct. We are guided by the following censure cases, all of which involved respondents who, without dishonest motives, prepared instruments giving themselves substantial gifts from clients. (citations omitted)

Based on the foregoing cases and our consideration of all of the relevant circumstances, we recommend that Respondent receive a censure and be required to complete the ARDC Professional Responsibility Institute program within one year of the date of entry of the final order of discipline.

(Mike Frisch)

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