April 28, 2011
Dues Ignorance No Excuse
An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a censure and a course in professionalism of an attorney who had regularly engaged in the practice of law after suspension for failure to pay his annual registration fee. The hearing board did not buy his explanation:
The theories advanced in Respondent’s defense do not excuse the misconduct. One of these theories was that the ARDC is obligated to educate members of the bar on the need to register each year. This theory is not supported by Respondent’s observation that the mission of the ARDC includes an educational component. The common maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse applies particularly to attorneys. In re Cheronis, 114 Ill. 2d 527, 502 N.E.2d 722 (1986); In re Peterson, 98 SH 19, M.R. 15331 (Feb. 1, 1999). In particular, all attorneys are presumed to know the Supreme Court Rules. In re Scroggins, 89 SH 689, M.R. 8477 (Sept. 29, 1992) (Review Bd. at 8). That presumption, and the concomitant responsibility to follow those Rules, certainly applies to the rules governing attorneys’ ability to practice their profession.
While Respondent testified he did not realize failure to register and pay the fee would cause him to be removed from the Master Roll, he also testified he knew he had to register and pay the annual fee. The "lack of education" defense is particularly unpersuasive when the Respondent admits he knew what was required of him. Further, any claimed lack of understanding of the consequence of failing to register is disingenuous, at least in relation to 2009, because the preceding year Respondent was removed from the Master Roll for precisely the same conduct.
Respondent asserts he had difficulty with his mail service, and did not receive all mail addressed to him and sent to his address. However, a failure to receive the registration notice does not excuse the failure to register. S.Ct.R. 756(c). Further, a person attempting to operate a legal practice from a location at which mail service is often unreliable or insecure should make arrangements, such as obtaining a Post Office Box, to securely receive mail related to his practice.
If this had happened in Pennsylvania, the attorney would be facing a lengthy suspension. (Mike Frisch)
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